Facebook has 60 engineers working on controlling computers from your brain

Illustration by James Bareham  The Verge

Illustration by James Bareham The Verge

Dugan told software developers at Facebook's annual F8 conference that the company was modeling Building 8 after DARPA, a government office founded in the 1950s that gave the world the internet and the miniaturized Global Positioning System receivers used in consumer devices.

On the other hand, this kind of technology does involve Facebook having direct access to the brain, which might make a lot of people uncomfortable to even think about.

They have developed actuators that allow people to "hear" through their skin. Facebook hired Dugan from Alphabet Inc.'s GOOG, +0.17% GOOGL, +0.30% Google previous year with a mandate to develop what she called "audacious science". DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invested heavily in brain-computer interface technologies to do things like cure mental illness and restore memories to soldiers injured in war.

The thinking-to-text project is headed up by Mark Chevillet, previously an adjunct professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University.

Facebook is exploring a silent speech system with a team of more than 60 scientists that would let people type 100 words per minute with their brain.

"We just want to be able to get those signals right before you actually produce the sound so you don't have to say it out loud anymore", he said.

But Facebook isn't only focusing on what's in your head.

Anti-Trump protesters beat apparent Trump supporter
The events were unrelated to 150 marches planned across the country on Saturday that called on Trump to release his tax returns. Similar protests are being held in dozens more cities including Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York and Palm Beach, Florida.

Dugan demoed a "brain mouse for AR", which the company described as "a silent speech interface with the speed and flexibility of voice and privacy of text". So far, researchers have been successful in using it to allow people with disabilities to control paralyzed or prosthetic limbs.

Our brains, along with the cochleas in our ears, possess the power to reconstruct language from components - and Facebook is looking at hardware and software to transmit those components to the body via pressure changes and vibrations. They could also be a way to communicate with others in virtual or augmented reality, which are technologies that Facebook has been pushing heavily.

"This is about decoding the words you've already chose to share by sending them to the speech center of your brain", Dugan said. One goal is to facilitate communication between brain cells by hacking the "neural code" that lets people store and recall memories and information. The technology is still in its infancy, but the demonstrations during Dugan's speech at F8 made it clear that Facebook's in-house research is still much further along than you'd probably think.

Facebook envisions technology that is far in advance of anything now possible. It could also make it possible for those who are deaf or otherwise disabled to communicate more easily. Frances wears a black sleeve on her arm, and it transmits different frequencies associated with different words to her skin. Nevertheless, Dugan's group has one interesting research project growing. Facebook is building upon that foundation, with the ultimate goal for one person to be able to "think in Mandarin", and someone else to instantly "feel in Spanish".

While neither of these projects will yield a gadget that you can buy, Dugan said she can imagine it happening eventually.

"It's incredibly exciting to do this work but is it a little terrifying?", Of course", she said.

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