Today in “wut,” Facebook has plans to develop user technology that will allow Facebook to directly interface with our brains. Sounds like a great, great, great idea. Such a phenomenally good idea and not at all a terrifying one that should be stopped in its tracks immediately.
At its annual developer conference F8, Facebook made a number of reveals about its projects for the upcoming years. But Building 8, a cloak-and-dagger internal research group, dropped the biggest bombshell. They announced that they were working on new tech that would allow Facebook users to type using nothing but their thoughts. Which would allow us to both type faster than our hands could possibly match, and be molded into human superweapons, probably, maybe.
Building 8 is helmed by Regina Dugan, a former DARPA director and senior Metal Gear engineer. In an article she recently published in The Verge, Dugan said the project’s goal was to make “something as simple as a yes-no brain click.” Even something as “simple” as that binary function, if successfully developed, would totally alter the possibilities of how we use technology, or how technology uses us. That last part isn’t a joke – the tech has enormous potential for abuse.
Unlike a related project, in which people suffering from paralysis were taught to communicate through an electronic interface using a brain implant, the Facebook tech would not require invasive surgery. “We think optical imaging is the best place to start,” says Dugan.
The final realization of the project will likely come in the form of a wearable gadget. It’s still a long-term vision, we probably won’t be jacking into the Facebook Matrix for years. But don’t worry, in the short-term they’re also developing an implant prototype to be used in medicine.
As with every major technological breakthrough, direct mind-to-computer interface promises both great rewards and significant peril. It’s been a subject of science fiction for decades, and reality could potentially wind up looking like some of the scarier scenarios. The most significant danger is the possibility that while the mind can control a computer, the same interface can be reversed to influence thoughts and actions. The scariest part is that these thoughts and actions, input remotely, would probably occur to us subjectively as our own.
Study after study after study has shown that social media, and especially Facebook, have a negative impact on mental health. Facebook use is correlated with a commensurate drop in self-image and an increase in depressive symptoms. Connecting our brains directly to the sadness pipeline may not be the best call.