Facebook's Creepy "Mind Reading" Project in Doubt after Tech Executive Exits

From [HERE] Regina Dugan, a tech exec with roots in the government sector as the former director of DARPA, is leaving Facebook and her departure calls into question the status of one of the craziest things Facebook has been working on.

Fittingly, Dugan announced the departure in a post on Facebook today.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dugan herself you may be familiar with some of the skunkworks projects she oversaw while managing Google’s secretive Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group from 2012 to 2016. Those projects included Tango, a highly accurate augmented reality device packed into a phone, and Ara, the now scuttled modular phone that could have made your mobile hardware upgrades a whole lot cheaper.

In 2016 Dugan left Google for another huge company with little consumer gadget experience: Facebook. At Facebook she ran Building 8, another privately funded research and development group like ATAP.

The projects Dugan and her colleagues developed at Building 8 didn’t just include neat gadgets for the near future; they could have also led to enormous leaps forward in technology as a whole. The most noted project was one announced at F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, in April. Called Silent Voice First, the project sought to allow computers to read your mind. Obviously that would make it easier to post to Facebook when your hands are busy, and it could be life altering for people with severe physical limitations, but it would also, you know, be a computer, run by Facebook, that READS YOUR MIND.

That is, they have "plans to use noninvasive sensors to detect brain signals associated with a person thinking a word, then use an algorithm to figure out what the intended word was, according to a report of the conference by STAT News. Artificial intelligence will also likely figure in, helping to determine which of several possible words is actually the one a user was thinking of. And the team is leaning towards using a technology called diffuse optimal tomography to pull all of this off, which would work by shining near-infrared light onto brain tissue, and deducing patterns of neurons based on how the light scatters.

Facebook is hardly the first to set out to make a working brain-computer interface. DARPA, which Dugan used to head, has invested heavily in brain-computer interface technologies to do things like treat mental illness, and restore memories to soldiers injured in war. More recently, Silicon Valley has been locked in an arms race to build a brain computer interface that allows us to communicate by thought. Earlier this year, Tesla and SpaceX head Elon Musk revealed a new machine-brain interface company, Neuralink. So did Silicon Valley entrepreneur Bryan Johnson (that one’s called Kernel) and Facebook alum Mary Louise Jepsen (Open Water). [MORE

According to STAT, Chevillet pegged the technology as a solution to the fact that people don’t like to use voice recognition to send texts when they’re in earshot of others, even though its a faster mode of typing.