Facebook Aims to Connect Directly to Your Brain

By Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. wants to read your mind.

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"What if you could type directly from your brain?" asked Regina Dugan, who runs Facebook's secretive hardware division, Building 8, during a keynote address at the company's F8 developer conference Wednesday.

Building 8, which was created at last year's F8, has been working on a "brain-computer interface" for several months, Ms. Dugan said. Recent job postings for Building 8 show the unit is hiring engineers for a two-year project "focused on developing advanced (brain-computer interface) technologies."

Ultimately, the mind-reading technology could help people type 100 words a minute from their minds -- about five times faster than we type from our smartphones, Ms. Dugan told developers at the conference in San Jose, Calif.

Separately, Building 8 also is working on technology that could help people "hear" with their skin, Ms. Dugan said.

Building 8 tackles Facebook's bleeding edge ideas -- way beyond projects such as the augmented reality technology CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Tuesday.

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Facebook hired Ms. Dugan from Alphabet Inc.'s Google last year with a mandate to develop what she called " audacious science."

Billionaire executive Elon Musk has launched a competing project, Neuralink Corp., with the aspiration to upload and download thoughts through implanted tiny brain electrodes.

Ms. Dugan told the crowd that this wasn't about decoding people's random thoughts, which she said Facebook doesn't have the right to know. Instead, Facebook hopes only to interpret and send the thoughts people would speak aloud anyway, Ms. Dugan said.

"You take many photos, you choose to share some of them," she said during her keynote. "Similarly you have many thoughts, you choose to share some of them."

The technology could help disabled people, Ms. Dugan said, showing a video of a woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS, who is able to slowly type with her brain through a project at Stanford University. It also could have more broad uses, such as allowing people to respond to texts or emails without looking at their phones.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 19, 2017 19:12 ET (23:12 GMT)