Facebook has been making headlines in recent weeks concerning the broadcasting of a murder on its “Facebook Live” feature. However, one story you may not have heard is the announcement that Facebook is making a serious attempt to develop technology to read your mind.
Whilst this may sound like the start of a dystopian future controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, the intended benefits of this technology could be significant. For example, Facebook claims that it could increase the rate at which anyone can enter words on to a device to as much as 100 words a minute. This is quick (for reference a typical professional typist types in the region of 50 to 80 words per minute) and would provide obvious benefits to users, especially to those who might have a physical disability.
Facebook has reported that it has a team of 60 working on this technology and is looking to hire a Brain-Computer Interface Engineer (the job posting is no longer live as of September 2017, but can be viewed in this archived link), so you might think that they are leading the way in the field of thought input for computer devices. However, a quick trawl through espacenet, a free to use worldwide patent database, reveals no patents or patent applications in the name of Facebook with ‘brain’, ‘thought’, ‘mind’ or ‘EEG’ (a typical brain reading technology) in the title or abstract.
Doing the same for Microsoft or Samsung reveals a plethora of patents and applications including Microsoft’s US 7,580,742, filed back in 2006 and granted in 2009. This patent protects a way of using EEG to control a computer device and suggest that “A user may, through the use of neurofeedback, learn how to “think about moving the cursor” in order to move a cursor in a particular direction”. An interesting development, though quite someway off 100 words a minute.
One of Samsung’s notable contributions to this field of Intellectual Property is patent application US 2014333529 filed in 2014 and suggests that “the EEG signal may be obtained through sensors that are attached to the head of the user, and may be transmitted to the display control apparatus via a wired or wireless connection.” The device may additionally be able to react to “stimulus that is presented to the user [and] may be any one of a visual stimulus, an auditory stimulus, a tactile stimulus, a gustatory stimulus, and an olfactory stimulus”. This is again an exciting idea and perhaps shows that Facebook’s competitors may have a significant head start on them in the field of mind control.
Regardless, these patents and patent applications perhaps show that Facebook’s announcement and targets are not as unlikely as they first seem, and that this is certainly a thought provoking area of research.