Facebook Discontinues Research into a Brain Controlled Interface to Focus on AR/VR Advances


Ok, you can relax, Facebook’s no longer trying to read your thoughts. 

Well, not directly anyway.

Earlier this week, researchers from UCSF shared their latest breakthrough in enabling a patient who’s unable to move or speak to generate words and sentences on a computer screen, using only his thoughts.

As explained in the video, the process is enabled via an implanted device, which decodes the signals in the man’s brain that had once controlled his vocal tract. Facebook Reality Labs played a key role in the development of the technology, which it had actually previewed at its F8 conference back in 2017. 

Facebook F8 presentation

Which, at that time, freaked a few people out. Facebook already knows all about what you share, who you engage with, what you’re interested in, which is enough to make very accurate predictions about your psychological make-up. But one day, it could literally be in your brain – you could post a status update just by thinking it.

Imagine that.

Well, you’ll have to keep imagining, because with this latest advance from UCSF, Facebook says that it’s bowing out of the digital mind-reading race.

As per Facebook:

“While we still believe in the long-term potential of head-mounted optical BCI technologies, we’ve decided to focus our immediate efforts on a different neural interface approach that has a nearer-term path to market: wrist-based devices powered by electromyography. Given this, we’re no longer pursuing a research path to develop a silent, non-invasive speech interface that would allow people to type just by imagining the words they want to say.”

So Facebook’s going to concentrate on the more practical, physical controls for AR instead, likely linked to its Facebook Watch device, and evolving AR glasses. Which makes sense, in terms of a project that better aligns with its product and business offerings. But still, Facebook does note that it will still keep in touch with the brain reading project, and may look to re-enter the space at a later stage.

Realistically, having Facebook attached to such a project is probably not overly beneficial, as the associations with data privacy and sharing, and the way in which Facebook uses such for ad targeting, likely don’t align with the broader goals for such tech.

So you’ll still have to use your stupid old fingers to type in your stupid Facebook and Instagram updates, like a Neanderthal, a Luddite.

But then again, were you really going to sign up to get a Facebook chip inserted into your mind?

Facebook says that its team has open-sourced its BCI software, and will share its head-mounted hardware prototypes with key researchers and other peers to help advance new use cases.

Which will effectively put Facebook’s brain translator to rest. For now. Until the next shift.