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After Elon Musk, Facebook now investing in wearable mind-reading machines

Mouli Bose
Elon Musk, Facebook, mind reading machine, wearable mind reading machine, mind reading computer,mind reading technology, Brain-Computer Interface, BCI, ar golass, augmented reality

Aiming to replicate an idea which is often seen in sci-fi movies, Facebook is funding a research team at University of California, San Francisco that has made a breakthrough in mind-reading machines. At its annual F8 summit in 2017, the social media giant had announced its intentions of creating a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) and transforming that into a wearable tech that would let people write just by thinking.

In the blog post, Facebook stated that it intends to reach a much wider audience, and believes that the technology would pave way for us to control our devices through our mind -- be it keyboards or Augmented Reality (AR) glasses. But for that to happen, the device will need to access our thoughts, and the company will need that data to process further.

The research team in UCSF is currently working on creating a device that would help patients with paralysis, who have lost their speech power by decoding the thoughts directly from the neurons in the brain and translating them into words. The team also published their findings recently in a Nature Communications paper - where they stated that they have developed an algorithm that is capable of decoding words from one's brain activity and transmit it on a computer screen in real-time.

While that could be helpful for the millions of paralysis patients living across the world, who would be able to express their thoughts and emotions -- the machine could have a plethora of uses.

The researchers did test runs on three volunteers, who are patients suffering with epilepsy, but have normal speech and are also undergoing surgery to cure the seizures. The accuracy rate is quoted to be at a whopping 61 per cent.

However, the algorithm can now only decode words from a small existing vocabulary. But the researchers hope that they will soon be able to decode words at a real-time speed of 100 words per minute with a word error rate of less than 17 per cent.

But Facebook isn't the only company that is trying to create such a device. Even Elon Musk owned Neuralink is trying to create 'flexible threads' that can be implanted into a human brain to let one control his phone and computer just by the thought process. They are even hoping to start testing it by the end of 2020.

Though creating such machines will be a huge scientific breakthrough, certain personal boundaries will be blurred, and this again brings us back to personal data protection and privacy of an individual. While many are arguing about this now, the moment these devices hit the market - your very personal thoughts may become public, and accessible to companies like Facebook, Neuralink and others. And why just that? A small glitch in the algorithm might as well cause something harmless to get translated into something heinous -- and that you won't even be able to term as a 'slip of the tongue'!