If you already think that Facebook probably knows a lot more about you than you would like, you might have some reservations about this week’s news that the social media kingpin has spent what is believed to be as much as $1 billion on a start-up whose technology is supposed to read minds. But that’s exactly what has happened with Facebook buying 4-year-old CTRL Labs in its biggest deal in half a decade.
The New York-based start-up was co-founded by Thomas Reardon, who was behind the Internet Explorer web browser, and neuroscientist Patrick Kaifosh. The CTRL Labs technology worth a cool billion is a wristband able to interpret the signals a brain sends to muscles in the arm to communicate desired hand movements. So the wristband is able to know what the wearer wants to do with their hand before they do it. The result is the wearer of the wristband can write on a keyboard or click a mouse through thought alone.
The wristband catches electrical signals that are sent from the spinal cord to turn muscle fibres on and off. It listens for these signals and then breaks them down to interpret the information they contain. That goes as far as being able to understand how much pressure the brain is telling a hand and fingers to exert on an object. The signals are then sent to a computer that reconstructs what the instruction is and performs it.
Andrew Bosworth, head of virtual reality and augmented reality products at Facebook commented:
“Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th-century inventions in a 21st-century world.”
CTRL Labs will join Facebook Reality Labs, a division run by Mr Bosworth that is working on augmented reality sunglasses to superimpose computer-generated images over the real world. Investors in the company, which had raised $67 million over the four years since it was founded, include Amazon and the Founders Fund, backed by the Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and Alphabet.
The biggest technology companies are all working on new tech that is able to interpret brain and other electronic signals transferred through our bodies. Applications not only include technology that will be potentially life-changing for those with disabilities but also every day appliances and tasks we all use and perform.