Whoa: Johns Hopkins is working with Facebook on mind typing - Technical.ly Baltimore

Software Development

Apr. 20, 2017 10:06 am

Whoa: Johns Hopkins is working with Facebook on mind typing

Facebook announced plans to build devices that can measure brain activity to tell what words you want to type.
Facebook’s 10-year roadmap.

Facebook's 10-year roadmap.

(Image via Facebook)

The December news that Johns Hopkins was among a list of universities working with secretive Facebook R&D lab Building 8 got us intrigued — but what they working on remained a mystery.

With Facebook’s F8 developer conference this week, now we know at least one project:

Building 8 head Regina Dugan gave some details Wednesday about plans to create a device that would allow typing with your mind instead of your hands.

Facebook plans to work with optical imaging to develop a device that don’t require surgery to implant, and types faster than your hands — in the 100 words per minute range. It would be useful for people who are paralyzed, acting as a “speech prosthetic,” Dugan said.

“Just as you take many photos and decide to share some of them, so too, you have many thoughts and decide to share some of them in the form of the spoken word,” Dugan wrote in a Facebook post. “It is these words, words that you have already decided to send to the speech center of your brain, that we seek to turn into text.”


To do so, Facebook will seek to build sensors “that can measure brain activity hundreds of times per second, from locations precise to millimeters and without signal distortions,” Dugan wrote.

The technology is still a ways off, but Dugan is already addressing privacy concerns, saying that the project isn’t aimed at “decoding random thoughts.”

Teams from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel and Johns Hopkins Medicine are among the 60 researchers collaborating with Facebook on the effort.


According to the JHU Hub, APL has already worked on mind-controlled prosthetics with DARPA, and the two entities published research this year that showed the ability to decode information about the meaning of words from neural signals. This effort will build on that work.

“We are ecstatic to be developing a system that may not only enable mind-blowing applications for our sponsor but also open up an entirely new world to doctors and researchers working to understand the markers of neurological health and human performance,” Sezin Palmer, mission area executive for national health at APL, said in a statement.


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