Facebook is working on a technology that can let users type words directly from the brain without using keyboards.
The company said this during a two-day developers conference in San Jose, California.
Vice president of engineering Regina Dugan during the second day of the conference said:
“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.
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.
Dugan said Facebook is not 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.
She talked about a research at Stanford University, which has helped a paralysed woman 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 to 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.”
Ms. Regina Dugan is also the head of Facebook’s hardware research unit called the Building eight, which employs 60 scientists and engineers working on the new keyboardless typing technology.