Facebook's Mind Reading Headset can read your mind

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Highlights

Facebook is working on a brain-computer interface that enables users to type by merely thinking words.

Facebook announced in 2017 that it was working on a brain-computer interface that helps users type by only thinking words. Recently the company revealed how far it's come in its hunt to make such a device a reality.

"Imagine a world where all the knowledge, fun, and utility of today's smartphones were instantly accessible and completely hands-free," reads a Facebook blog post. "Where you could connect with others in a meaningful way, regardless of external distractions, geographic constraints, and even physical disabilities and limitations."

Facebook said it's collaborating with researchers at the University of California in San Francisco. Their aim is to build a device that could help patients with neurological damage speak again by analysing their brain activity in real-time.

While experimenting, they asked a question to the participants and directed them to answer loudly. By examining readings from high-density electrocorticography monitors — electrodes that are surgically implanted on the brain surface — they figured out the answer with "as high as 61 per cent" accuracy rate by looking at only brain signals.

The researchers claim that their results "demonstrate real-time decoding of speech in an interactive, conversational setting, which has important implications for patients who are unable to communicate."

But there are plenty of areas that still need work — especially considering the researchers' goal of "real-time decoding speed of 100 words per minute with a 1,000-word vocabulary and the word error rate of less than 17 per cent," as per Facebook.

But Facebook's Research Lab is already exploring a promising alternative: infrared. By measuring blood oxygenation levels, Facebook believes that it can create a less bulky — and far less invasive — brain-computer interface.

In other words, Facebook isn't going to get inside your thoughts any time soon. A device can allow us to move a mouse, type Facebook comments, and play games with our thoughts alone is still many years, if not decades, out.

"To me, the brain is the one safe place for freedom of thought, of fantasies, and for dissent," Nita Farahany, a professor at Duke University who specialises in neuro-ethics, told MIT Technology Review. "We're getting close to crossing the final frontier of privacy in the absence of any protection whatsoever."

It is also raising questions regarding privacy. Our thoughts are one of the last safe havens that may be exploited by data hoarding big tech companies.

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