FACEBOOK WANTS TO GET INSIDE YOUR HEAD, as the social network is funding an artificial intelligence-powered experiment that aims to read the human mind.
Back in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook was going to sponsor research into a brain-computer interface and threw some money at the University of California through the Facebook Reality Labs arm. Roll on two years and the fruits of those labours are now read to be shown off.
We say shown off, we mean academically blabbered about in the Nature Communications journal. So while Facebook hasn't come up with some dystopian futuristic brain plugin network, the boffins at Cali uni have cooked up with a smart algorithm that's able to read the thoughts of people suffering from brain injuries.
To do this, electrodes were implanted on the bonces of epilepsy patients and used to read the activity their brains gave off when answering questions aloud. Machine learning algorithms were then set to the tasks of decoding what that activity translates to in terms of giving answers to multiple-choice questions. Essentially, the AI-based tech was trying to read a person's mind.
According to the research it apparently managed to do so. Some 75 per cent of the time the algorithm guessed the question being asked correctly, and 61 per cent of the time it managed to figure out the answer the person was giving. It's hardly the most stellar of accurate performance compared to what AI tech has chucked out in the past, but the brain is a complex thing, so this is all a step in the right direction.
"Real-time processing of brain activity has been used to decode simple speech sounds, but this is the first time this approach has been used to identify spoken words and phrases," explained lead postdoctoral researcher David Moses PhD. "It's important to keep in mind that we achieved this using a very limited vocabulary, but in future studies we hope to increase the flexibility as well as the accuracy of what we can translate from brain activity."
The next big thing beyond improving the accuracy will be to create a wearable device, potentially one that taps into augmented reality, which avoids the need to surgically implant electrodes.
As for the idea that Facebook might have access to tech that can read your thoughts - 'what was that Dave, you want to Facebook stalk your ex?' - Facebook said it will try and advance this tech in a non-creepy, ethical manner.
"We know the technology better than anyone else, so we should start talking about this now with people in the community," said Emily Mugler, an engineer on the BCI team at Facebook Reality Labs. "Just because we aren't all trained bioethicists, that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't be part of the conversation. In fact, it's our responsibility to make sure everyone is made properly aware of the scientific advances, so we can all have an informed discussion about the future of this technology."
Given Facebook's previous data-wrangling woes, we'll have to wait and see what it does with the potential future power to access our thoughts. Best have that tin foil hat ready just in case. µ
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