Facebook announces plans to make a messaging device that types your thoughts

At its F8 conference, Facebook has announced it is working on a brain-controlled messaging technology that would type out people’s thoughts at 100 words per minute.

The “silent speech” interface is being created using technology originally developed by Johns Hopkins APL that decodes neural signals to control paralysed limbs.

However, the project will now be a part of Facebook’s hardware development and research and development group – dubbed Building 8.

“This program is an excellent example of how APL is transitioning novel technologies developed for revolutionizing prosthetics into other domains,” said APL director Ralph Semmel.

“The research agreement with Facebook has also allowed us to expand our pioneering brain–machine interface work, and further combine our expertise in neuroscience with our expertise in optical imaging.”

Facebook’s Building 8 is headed by Regina Dugan, the former director of DARPA. Like DARPA, Building 8 aims to position itself “at the intersection of science and products” and specialise in “DARPA-style breakthrough development”.

Facebook will be helped in this ambition by its ability to set up research projects within weeks or even days, rather than months, and has already partnered with a select group of universities and research centres.

But despite its working with Facebook, Johns Hopkins APL said it has no intention of ignoring its primary objective of delivering effective and resilient solutions to complex health care challenges.

“This research has the potential to radically transform our ability to measure and understand brain activity associated with numerous neurological conditions,” said Sezin Palmer, mission area executive for National Health at APL.

“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.”

Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins APL

In a Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, said that the company’s ultimate goal was to create a wearable technology that utilised the silent speech technology.

“Our brains produce enough data to stream 4 HD movies every second. The problem is that the best way we have to get information out into the world – speech – can only transmit about the same amount of data as a 1980s modem,” said Zuckerberg.

“We’re working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today. Eventually, we want to turn it into a wearable technology that can be manufactured at scale.

“Technology is going to have to get a lot more advanced before we can share a pure thought or feeling, but this is a first step.”

Crypto-currency mining is hindering the search for alien life

Researchers searching for extraterrestrial life are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, due to crypto-currency mining. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs...and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer. Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining.

Source: BBC

Genetic study of soil reveals new family of antibiotics

Researchers have discovered a new family of antibiotics in samples of soil. In their paper, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, the group describe how the antibiotics, named malacidins, have been shown to kill superbugs such as MRSA, which are resistant to current antibiotics.

Source: Phys.org

UK police are identifying suspects using fingerprint scanners

UK police have begun using a mobile fingerprinting system to identify people in less than a minute. Fingerprints are compared against 12 million records stored in the national criminal and immigration fingerprint databases and, if a match is found, return info like the individual’s name and date of birth.

Source: Wired

Robots 1,000 times smaller than a human hair could treat cancer

Scientists from Arizona State University and The Chinese Academy of Sciences just figured out how to build tiny robots that travel through the body's blood stream, hunting for tumors, without doing any harm to healthy cells along the way. In tests on mice, average survival times doubled.

NASA is bringing back Cold War-era rockets to get to Mars

NASA is planning to use atomic rockets to help get humans to Mars. Unlike conventional rockets that burn fuel to create thrust, the atomic system uses the reactor to heat a propellant like liquid hydrogen, which then expands through a nozzle to power the craft, doubling the efficiency at which the rocket uses fuel.

Source: Bloomberg

Facial recognition systems have gender and racial biases

Research conducted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stamford University has found that AI-powered facial recognition systems have gender and racial biases, which means because they have been trained using large data sets of white males they are better at picking out that group than any other.

Source: The Inquirer

Skydio unveils its obstacle-dodging, thrill-seeking, AI-powered drone

An autonomous drone startup founded by former MIT researchers has today launched its R1, a fully autonomous flying camera that follows its subjects through dense and challenging environments.

In a promotional video, launched to introduce the autonomous camera, R1 can be seen following an athlete as she parkours her way through dense woodland.

The drone’s makers Skydio have explained that the camera combines artificial intelligence, computer vision, and advanced robotics and works by anticipating how people move, so R1 can make intelligent decisions about how to get the smoothest, most cinematic footage in real-time.

“The promise of the self-flying camera has captured people’s imaginations, but today’s drones still need to be flown manually for them to be useful,” said Adam Bry, CEO and co-founder of Skydio.

“We’ve spent the last four years solving the hard problems in robotics and AI necessary to make fully autonomous flight possible. We’re incredibly excited about the creative possibilities with R1, and we also believe that this technology will enable many of the most valuable drone applications for consumers and businesses over the coming years.”

Launching today is the Frontier Edition of R1, which is aimed at athletes, adventurers, and creators.

This version of R1 is powered by the Skydio Autonomy Engine, enabling it to see and understand the world around it so that it can fly safely at speeds of upto 25mph while avoiding obstacles.

The autonomous drone is fitted with 13 cameras, which gives it the ability to map and understand the world in real-time, allowing it to be fully autonomous and independently capture footage that in Skydio’s words “once required a Hollywood film crew” and will “enable a new type of visual storytelling”.

The R1 “Frontier Edition” is available for order now on Skydio’s website for $2,499.