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04.21.17 | 11:54 am

When it comes to reading your mind, Facebook may be no Uri Geller

At Facebook's F8 conference, the company revealed it was working on reading your mind. It unveiled Project: Type With Your Brain, which is exactly what it sounds like, with the goal of allowing someone to type 100 words per minute just by thinking about them and hoped the tech would be available within just a few years. This could make computing wildly accessible for people with physical disabilities and is just generally pretty freaking cool. 

However, no one is sure whether Facebook can actually deliver on this goal, especially because the current speed record for mental typing falls well below 100 words per minute. According to IEEE Spectrum, back in February, Stanford researchers helped a paralyzed patient type eight words per minute with his mind using a device implanted in his brain, which is incredibly impressive, but far short of the 100 wpm Facebook hopes to achieve without wires or implants. Stanford's work is leaps and bounds above a German team's work that led to an ALS patient type "between 0.3 and 0.82 words per minute."

Facebook has amassed an impressive team of researchers to help it achieve its mind-reading goal (no, Uri Geller was not among them), but untangling the neural circuitry of speech might take a little longer than they think. Read the full story on IEEE Spectrum, while practicing bending spoons with your mind. 

04.19.17 | 5:22 pm

Here’s what you need to know from day two of Facebook’s F8 conference

For starters: Helicopter-provided Wi-Fi for disaster zones and educated artificial intelligence were on the agenda. Our Daniel Terdiman was on the scene in San Jose, California. Check out his video dispatch below.

04.19.17 | 4:34 pm

Facebook shows vision of feature-rich, see-through AR glasses

If one thing was clear during the second-day keynote at Facebook's F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, today, it's that the company isn't afraid of the future. During the 90-minute keynote, executives talked about advances in artificial intelligence, brain-computer interaction, and connectivity that are years away.

It also talked about vision—literally. As in see-through augmented reality glasses that could one day transform the way we live our lives, collect vital information on a daily basis, and interact with the people around us. During his time on stage, Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash spelled out how he thinks such glasses could work. For one thing, they'll make us smarter and more capable, and it'll be socially acceptable to wear them—if people can't clearly tell we're wearing them. They could help us see in low-light situations, Abrash said, they can enhance our memory and cognition—feeding us vital information during meetings, or even reminding us of someone's name in a pinch. Or they could be used to collaborate on work projects with people in other places. This isn't happening any time soon, Abrash said, but it's a vision Facebook is committed to realizing, and he said he thinks it's possible we'll be wearing something along these lines within five years.

04.19.17 | 4:20 pm

Facebook talks bringing connectivity everywhere it’s required

Many of us are now used to fairly decent internet connectivity on a regular basis. But we have to remember that there are plenty of people–and situations–where high-speed internet is nothing more than a dream. That's why Facebook (as are others, like Google) is working on improving connectivity in as many places as possible.

Today at F8, its developers conference, the company revealed its latest progress–steps forward in high-speed connectivity for places with none at all, in cities, where buildings can interfere with signals, and in emergency situations. The company revealed it has set new records for wireless data transfer–36 gigabits per second over a distance of 13 kilometers using millimeter-wave technology and 80 gigabits per second using optical cross-link technology; and 16 gigabits per second from a fixed spot on the ground to an aircraft 7 kilometers away. Facebook also talked about a test in San Jose, California, in which it successfully demonstrated a city-scale mesh millimeter-wave system that delivers fiber-quality connectivity. And finally, it announced its Tether-tenna, a connectivity project for places dealing with emergencies like floods or earthquakes that can deliver internet from a wire connected to a helicopter. All of which, of course, means more access to Facebook.

04.19.17 | 2:32 pm

Yes, Facebook is working on technology to read your mind

For years, Mark Zuckerberg has cheerfully mused about how cool it would be if people could pump information directly from their brains to the digital world. Today at F8, Regina Dugan—the former DARPA and Google research honcho who joined Facebook a year ago to head a group called Building 8—talked about actual investigations the company is conducting in that area.

Dugan acknowledged that the prospect of Facebook getting inside users' heads may not sound like anything to root for. "We are not talking about decoding your random thoughts," she clarified. The use-case scenarios she talked about involved stuff like people with ALS being able to type at 1oo words a minute by thinking and deaf people hearing through their skin.

The technologies involved relate to concepts like quasi-ballistic photons, and are works in progress. "These things are still a few years away, and yet somehow it feels urgent to us, because we don't always have the luxury of time," said Dugan,

"If we fail," she said as she was winding up her presentation, "it's going to suck."

04.19.17 | 1:51 pm

What’s going on in that video? Facebook wants to know

At Facebook's day-two F8 keynote, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela, one of the company's AI honchos, just provided an update on the technologies the company is developing to analyze video. The company is able not just to identify multiple people in a clip but also what they're doing: sitting, standing, walking, waving.

It's also working hard to push AI onto the phone rather than relying on servers in the cloud. One project involves analyzing 2D video—most phones only have one lens on each side—and extrapolating 3D space from a flat image. That's useful for effects such as real-time video selfies that make you look crisp but pleasantly blur the background

04.19.17 | 1:28 pm

New Facebook VR cameras shoot professional-quality 360 3D video

At Facebook's F8 developers conference today, the company unveiled its new x24 and x6 VR cameras, each able to shoot in six-degrees-of-freedom, meaning they'll be able to capture fully immersive video that lets viewers move their head forward or backward or left or right, even though the camera itself didn't move.

You can read all about the camera, and the collaboration between the team that designed it at Facebook's Area 404 hardware lab here.

04.19.17 | 1:19 pm

For Facebook AI, machine vision is just the beginning

Yesterday, at Facebook's day-one F8 keynote, CTO Mike Schroepfer talked about the company's progress in teaching computers to recognize elements in still images and videos. At the day-two keynote today, he returned to the topic of AI—but emphasized that machine vision is only one aspect.

Schroepfer divided AI into four challenges: perception, understanding and learning, prediction, and planning. He spoke of work Facebook is doing to auto-compose photo captions for the vision impaired, such as labeling a photo of a soccer goalie with "image may contain one or more people playing sports outdoors."

But then he emphasized how much computers don't yet understand by flashing a photo of a pepperoni pizza on-screen and asking the audience whether it was a vegetarian pizza. For humans, that's an easy question, because we know what pepperoni and vegetarianism are. But "computers are confounded by these questions because they don't understand the world around us," Schroepfer said. 

04.18.17 | 8:10 pm

Facebook’s AR Studio would like to be the Photoshop of augmented reality

From Mark Zuckerberg's stage-setting vision statement to specific product announcements, a big part of Facebook's day one F8 keynote was about establishing itself as a platform for augmented-reality experiences that people can explore on their phones. And a big part of that is AR Studio, a new MacOS application for creating interactive, entertaining AR effects of the sort that started out as a signature Snapchat feature but are rapidly showing up all over.

Facebook engineering director Ficus Kirkpatrick told me that the company's goal is not to create scads of these effects itself but rather to provide a platform for many others to do so at vast scale. With AR Studio, he says, "Simple things are easy to do, and hard things are possible to do," making the software appealing both to artists and technical types. He adds that it has rich potential to add capabilities in the years to come: "I say to the team a lot, 'Photoshop is 30 years old. AR Studio came out today.'"

04.18.17 | 2:36 pm

Facebook Spaces is reminding everyone of that “Black Mirror” episode with the creepy avatars

Once again, life imitates Black Mirror. Facebook today rolled out a beta version of Facebook Spaces, a VR interface for the Oculus Rift headset that lets you can hang out with avatar versions of your Facebook friends. If you think that sounds familiar, you're not alone. Twitter was abuzz today with people comparing the platform to "Fifteen Million Merits," the second episode of Black Mirror's first season, which featured a dystopian future in which people cycled for credits and interacted as avatars in creepy virtual worlds. In other words, thanks Facebook, but we already know how this ends.

04.18.17 | 2:20 pm

Built-in Spotify and Apple Music makes Facebook Messenger more musical

One of Facebook Messenger's major pieces of news here at the F8 conference is Chat Extensions, a feature that lets third-party apps enable bits of their functionality inside a Messenger conversation. Messenger VP David Marcus just announced that Spotify will be a flagship example, by letting you embed playable songs and playlists inside a chat. And Apple Music will soon join it with a similar feature.