Last year, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) created a research division whose focus is on building new physical products that are meant to advance their mission of connecting the world. It’s called Building 8 and is being lead by Regina Dugan, formerly the Director of Pentagon’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Prior to joining Facebook’s Building 8, Dugan also led Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group.
Much like Amazon’s Lab126 and Google’s X division, the work of Building 8 borders on the mysterious side. And staying true to that nature, it seems as though it is now getting serious about developing “brain-computer interface” (BCI) technology that’s meant to be used for some kind of futuristic communications platform. In plainer terms, it looks like Building 8 is about to start work on mind-reading technology.
Where is this conclusion coming from? Job ads that were recently posted by the Building 8 team on their Facebook page.
One position is for a Neural Imaging Engineer whose responsibility will include designing and evaluating new non-invasive neuroimaging technologies. Neuroimaging is a field of science that employs various techniques and methodologies (such as magnetic resonance, ultrasound and x-rays) aimed at understanding what’s going on in one’s brain. The important keyword here is “non-invasive”. Because if Facebook does intend to delve into mind-reading, at least we know they will do it the non-invasive way. No implants, thank you very much.
Another position is for a Brain-Computer Interface Engineer who holds a Ph.D. degree in neuroscience, computer science, electrical engineering, or other related quantitative technical field. There’s also a requirement for a Haptics Engineer who will be tasked to “develop software and hardware to create realistic and immersive haptics experiences”.
Although a mind-reading device may still sound like science fiction stuff, it doesn’t look like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg intends to let this get in the way of his vision, which he plainly stated in a Q&A session last year.
He said: “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too, if you’d like. This would be the ultimate communication technology.”
Besides, we’ve already seen a few developments leading to the reality of mind-reading. The most notable is last year’s breakthrough when researchers from the University of Washington were able to let linked human brains play a game of 20 questions.
While there might not be anything definite yet, particularly in terms of timelines and what form the products Building 8’s new team will be working on will eventually be introduced, the fact that the job ads specified a two-year term provides us with an indirect hint. Plus, there’s also that explicit description of the type of team member they’re looking for – a ‘slightly impatient individual willing to face down their fear of failure to accomplish bold things’.
If Building 8 manages to form their ‘dream team’, then we can probably expect something from them in two years. In the meantime, let’s all cherish the remaining moments when our thoughts remain our own, unless we voluntarily share them to someone else.