The brain-computer interface research coming out of Facebook reads like something out of a science fiction novel. Supporting a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, the two entities were able to create an algorithm (opens in new tab) to "decode a small set of full, spoken words and phrases from brain activity in real time" by working with patients undergoing surgery for epilepsy. In other words, for the last two years Facebook has been working on a way to allow people to type with their brain—without any kind of brain implant.
And now the company revealed yesterday it wants to integrate that technology with its own AR glasses, which are still in development. There's at least a decade to go before this becomes a reality, but people have been using brain-computer interfaces for a while now with the help of implanted electrodes to do simple things like feed themselves. Facebook wants to make this technology wireless so its AR glasses can be used as an input device. That's right—Facebook wants to read your mind.
"Being able to recognize even a handful of imagined commands, like 'home,' 'select,' and 'delete,' would provide entirely new ways of interacting with today's VR systems—and tomorrow's AR glasses," said Facebook.
Should this technology become fully functional in our lifetimes, it has a lot of potential to make videogames even more immersive, especially in combination with its Codec Avatars project and haptic feedback glove. Maybe make games even more accessible to individuals with certain disabilities, too. Instead of pressing a button to open your inventory screen, for instance, you could simply think of a specific word to perform the same action.
Of course, there are dozens of ethical issues that could crop up with this kind of technology, many of which we don't have enough forethought to see this early in the research process—and for a company that was recently slapped with a $5 billion fine for violating its users' privacy, that's a lot of trust to win back should they want to put a mind reading AR headset into the hands of consumers.
"Neuroethical design is one of our program’s key pillars—we want to be transparent about what we’re working on so that people can tell us their concerns about this technology," says Mark Chevillet, a Research Director at Facebook Reality Labs.
I guess we'll see what happens in ten years.