Now that Facebook’s case of misuse of user’s privacy data with the Federal Trade Commission is behind it, the company has announced information about developing
Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) would be boring into the last frontier of privacy -the human brain – the one safe place for our freedom of thought, our private dissent, and our fantasies, comments Nita Farahany, who is a professor at Duke University and who specializes in neuro-ethics.
Facebook is funding research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) for an experiment in the building of a BCI to decode spoken words from brain signals, the results of which were published in the journal of Nature Communication which covers research from all areas of natural sciences.
Their goal is to create devices that would supersede what is already on the market; devices that currently use eye movement and muscle twitches to control a virtual keyboard as reported by the Guardian, a British newspaper.
The BCI experiments were conducted on three epilepsy patients with severe speech disabilities and even paralysis. The experiments were done prior to their scheduled surgeries for their conditions. A tiny patch of electrodes were placed on their brains for a week in order to map out the origins of their seizures. So, UCSF researchers used this opportunity to do their experiment.
Edward Chang, a neurosurgeon at UCSF and the lead researcher on the study was allowed by the patients to record their brain activity while being asked nine questions and reading 24 possible responses from a list. Chang and his team used this model to build the BCI models to match the patterns of brain activity against the questions and answers.
David Moses, one of the a researchers on Chang’s team told the Guardian that this experiment is a first of its kind to identify spoken words and phrases. And although a limited vocabulary was used, the team’s hopes are for increasing flexibility and accuracy of what could be translated in future experiments.
Other companies such as Neuralink, co-founded by Elon Musk are also working on BCIs too. And these companies are hoping that not only people who have lost their ability to speak can be helped but that this technology will have a broader use some day: giving humans the ability to control the computer with just a thought.