Facebook has revealed the first details of a secretive project to develop a radical ‘mind reading’ system that would allow people to communicate via thought and ‘hear’ through their skin, without using a keyboard.
The company said this at its two-day developers conference in San Jose, California.
“In a few years’ time we expect to demonstrate a real-time silent speech system capable of delivering 100 words per minute,” or about five-times faster than a person can type with a smartphone, said vice president of engineering Regina Dugan on the second day of the conference.
Ms. Dugan also heads Facebook’s hardware research unit known as Building eight, which has more than 60 scientists and engineers working on the new keyboardless typing method.
The input method could, for example, allow users to send a text message or email to a friend without taking out a smartphone to type.
Ms. Dugan also tried to calm consumers at the conference, saying the California-based social media giant isn’t interested in detecting a person’s thoughts, but only what the person intends to type.
“We’re not talking about decoding your random thoughts. That might be more than any of us care to know,” she said.
Ms. Dugan referred to research at Stanford University, which has allowed a paralysed woman to type at about eight words per minute directly from her brain.
But the current method requires invasive surgery in which an array of electrodes is implanted to receive data where the brain would normally control the person’s motor functions.
“That simply won’t scale,” Ms. Dugan said, referring the surgery process.
“So we’ll need new non-invasive sensors.”
Facebook is considering wearables such as caps that can read data through the human skull.
While the company may need years to produce a mass-scale device, any advances in the research have potential to be a huge breakthrough in human communications, Ms. Dugan said.
“Even something as simple as a yes-no brain click would fundamentally change our capability.”