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.”

In the face of a collapsing market, Acer goes once more unto the smartwatch breach

Despite the fact that smartwatches are generally seeing their sales plummet, Acer has decided to release a new product into the collapsing market. Taking “an elegant approach to fitness”, the Leap Ware smartwatch seems to be fairly standard fare, using an array of fitness-tracking sensors in combination with an app to keep tabs on all of the various statistics the sensors provide.

“As the pace of modern lifestyles become ever more hectic, people demand technology that can keep them on track and motivated to pursue their goals,” said MH Wang, general manager of Smart Device Products in Acer’s IT Products Business.

“The new Acer Leap Ware is designed to act as a virtual coach to help people go, track, and share, sending them reminders and alerts when they need them the most.”

Acer obviously has to promote its product but the above statement seems somewhat bizarrely unaware of the fact that not only is the company offering pretty much the exact same thing every other smartwatch does, but is are doing so in a market that is dying a fairly nasty death. With big names like Pebble going under, and Fitbit’s stock having been on a steady decline, the persistence in putting out new products is a bold move.

In October 2016, the BBC wrote about a new report by market analysts IDC that showed amartwatch shipments declined by 51.6% year-on-year. The Apple Watch held its place as the market leader, but shipped only a quarter of the units it had sold in the same period (July-September) of 2015. And of the five leading brands, only Garmin showed growth with that growth still being underpinned by low figures.

“It has become evident that, at present, smartwatches are not for everyone,” said Jitesh Ubrani from IDC. “Having a clear purpose and use case is paramount, hence many vendors are focusing on fitness due to its simplicity.”

Images courtesy of Acer

It was pointed out by experts that the period examined was before new versions were released, but there is still a clear lack in significant consumer appetite. The market has largely survived off the fitness aspects, with other products largely falling by the wayside as the novelty wears off. And Acer itself hasn’t exactly been the premium forerunner.

The Leap Ware watch certainly seems a perfectly fine entry into the marketplace. It’s got “diverse fitness tracking features thanks to an array of sensors with advanced algorithms” and supposedly has a battery life of three to five days so you don’t miss out on logging those all-important stats. My watch only tells the time and date. It also has a battery life of ten years.

There is a reasonable chance that initial sales for the Leap Ware may be strong, being all shiny and new as it is. There’s also a very good chance they will quickly plummet as Acer discovers what consumers are desperately trying to tell them: people don’t want smartwatches anymore.

For more information and discussion of the collapse of wearable technology, check out the latest issue of Factor magazine.

Premature lambs kept alive in artificial wombs

Extremely premature lambs have been kept alive in a artificial womb. The fluid-filled plastic bag reproduces the environment of the womb and replaces the function of the placenta. The scientists responsible believe the device could be used for premature babies within the next three years.

Source: New Scientist

British engineer is using recycled plastic to build stronger roads

British engineer Toby McCartney has devised an innovative process that replaces much of the crude oil-based asphalt in pavement with pellets of plastic, made from recyclable bottles. The result is a street that’s 60% stronger than traditional roads, ten times longer-lasting as well as the obvious environmental benefits.

Source: Curbed

Elon Musk’s giant tunnel boring machine arrives at SpaceX

In February, Musk was looking at purchasing a used Herrenknecht boring machine: about 26 feet in diameter, about 400 feet long, and weighing about 1,200 tons. It’s not clear if this is the same machine, but one just arrived at SpaceX’s headquarters and can now be found in the parking lot.

Source: Electrek

Surgeon claims brain transplants are just three years away

A pioneering Italian surgeon has claimed people who have had their brains cryogenically frozen could be 'woken up' within three years. The claim is being made by professor Sergio Canavero who also claims he can carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months before he begins trials on brain transplants.

Source: The Telegraph

Facebook 'observed propaganda efforts' by governments

Facebook has revealed in a new report that it observed attempts to spread propaganda on its site, apparently orchestrated by governments or organised parties. The firm has seen "false news, disinformation, or networks of fake accounts aimed at manipulating public opinion", it said.

Source: BBC

Ex-head of Google China predicts AI will take half of all jobs in a decade

The ex-head of Google China, Kai-Fu Lee, has said that AI will be bigger than all previous tech innovations put together. "These are things that are superhuman, and we think this will be in every industry, will probably replace 50% of human jobs, create a huge amount of wealth for mankind and wipe out poverty," said Lee.

Source: CNBC