Back in 2017 Facebook announced their vision for a consumer grade brain computer interface that would allow people to think and see their thought in print, at a rate of 100 words per minute (that is better than typing! An average person types between 30 and 40 words per minute, professional typist may reach 65/75 words per minute. As spoken words this depends on the language, in the US is around 150 wpm).
At this rate of “thought to print” conversion one could have seen the demise of keyboards in a short while.
What was most interesting in the Facebook announcement was their confidence than in a short time it would have been possible to create and effective non-invasive BCI (that is not requiring the insertion of electrodes in the brain). Now, after 4 years that vision has not materialised and Facebook has just said that they are discontinuing the project because mass market BCI are too far away. Quoting their statement:
“That is why we can confidently say, as a consumer interface, a head-mounted optical silent speech device is still a very long way out. Possibly longer than we would have foreseen.”
I should say, and by re-reading my posts you can get the proof, I have always been skeptical of their vision (in the short term, let’s say within this decade), so I am not surprised of their move.
At the same time their effort and the feeling that something like a though-reading machine was on the horizon stimulated a concern by many parties of the risk, and dark shadows, that a success would bring.
Setting up a goal, without evaluating its downsides, is not a smart move (this is what i meant with “be mindful of your wishes, they might be granted”). Indeed Facebook started to look at ethical and societal implications but what is needed is to have independent and neutral bodies to consider these aspects. A new word has been coined: “neurorights”, to indicate the new frontiers that might be opened by technology and the risks to see our own thoughts being extracted from our brain. Notice that big players are using artificial intelligence to get insights on our thoughts, as they are observing how we interact with their services. Picking our thoughts directly from our brain is just one more step on the way to “own” our souls…