Facebook has pledged to support research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) mind reading technology in hopes that it could give a voice to those who have lost the ability to speak.
Scientists from UC San Francisco recently showed that brain activity recorded while research participants spoke could be used to create remarkably realistic synthetic versions of that speech. However, it took the researchers weeks or months to translate brain activity into speech – a far cry from the instant results that would be needed for such a technology to be clinically useful. Now, they have developed machine-learning algorithms that are capable of turning this brain activity into speech with Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The new study was funded by through a multi-institution sponsored academic research agreement with Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), a research division within Facebook focused on developing augmented- and virtual-reality technologies. As FRL has described, the goal for their collaboration with the Chang lab, called Project Steno, is to assess the feasibility of developing a non-invasive, wearable BCI device that could allow people to type by imagining themselves talking.
During the initial trials, the vocabulary of possible answers was extremely limited, and the success rate leaves plenty of room for improvement.
And then there’s the invasiveness of surgically placing electrodes directly on the surface of the brain — a very different model than a sleek headset that’s meant for mainstream consumers.
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 that can allow us all to move a mouse, type Facebook comments, and play games with our thoughts alone is still many years, if not decades, out.
This is good because some are skeptical about the new technology. Nita Farahany, a professor at Duke University who specializes in neuro-ethics, told MIT Technology Review “To me the brain is the one safe place for freedom of thought, of fantasies, and for dissent” and that “we’re getting close to crossing the final frontier of privacy in the absence of any protections whatsoever.”