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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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