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The dual challenge ahead of Facebook’s Typing-by-Brain project: 1) develop the neurotechnology, 2) develop the science

Direc­tor of Typ­ing-by-Brain Project Dis­cuss­es How Face­book Will Get Inside Your Head (IEEE Spec­trum):

When Facebook’s Mark Chevil­let describes the company’s new “typ­ing by brain” ini­tia­tive, he has a way of keep­ing it from sound­ing total­ly crazy…In the six weeks since Face­book exec­u­tive Regi­na Dugan announced the project at the company’s annu­al developer’s con­fer­ence, many neu­ro­sci­en­tists have expressed skep­ti­cism about the project’s time­line: Dugan said the team will be work­ing on this tech­nol­o­gy over the next two years.

Chevil­let clar­i­fied that Face­book doesn’t expect to have a com­mer­cial prod­uct in two years’ time—instead the execs hope the research done in that time will prove the fea­si­bil­i­ty of a prod­uct.

To meet that goal, Chevil­let said, his team is pur­su­ing two par­al­lel tracks of research. One focus­es on devel­op­ing a non-inva­sive tech­nol­o­gy that can read out high-qual­i­ty neur­al data. The sec­ond focus­es on brain sci­ence, and specif­i­cal­ly on bet­ter under­stand­ing the mech­a­nisms of lan­guage and speech. Here Chevil­let said they’re ask­ing the ques­tion: “Assum­ing you have the tech­nol­o­gy to get high-qual­i­ty neur­al data, how would you decode 100 words per minute?”…the big prob­lem there, says the Wyss Center’s Donoghue, is that neu­ro­sci­en­tists don’t yet know which data is impor­tant for func­tions like speech. “You’ve got all these sig­nals com­ing out of the brain, and the engi­neer comes along and says, ‘Oh, this is a sig­nal pro­cess­ing prob­lem. I’ll fig­ure this out.’ But we don’t have an under­ly­ing the­o­ry of brain that explains what all these sig­nals are,” Donoghue says. “You can’t cre­ate a good mod­el when there’s so much you don’t under­stand.”

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