October 16, 2019 Finance and Tech Publication

Zuckerberg says brain-reading wearables are here, but some functions may require implanted devices

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes his keynote speech during Facebook Inc’s annual F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, U.S., April 30, 2019.

Stephen Lam | Reuters

Mark Zuckerberg said on Thursday that he wants to work on brain-controlling wearable and implantable technology, and Facebook’s recent acquisition of CTRL-labs was a step in that direction. 

“The goal is to eventually make it so that you can think something and control something in virtual or augmented reality,” said Zuckerberg, in a conversation with Dr. Joe DeRisi and Dr. Steve Quake of the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub, a Bay Area-based research center backed by the Facebook CEO and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

Facebook agreed to acquire CTRL-Labs last month for between $500 million and $1 billion, making it one of the social network’s biggest purchases. The company is working on a wristband that will allow people to control devices based on signals from their spinal cord. Upon completion of the deal, CTRL-labs will join Facebook Reality Labs, which is working to develop augmented-reality smart glasses.

Zuckerberg, DeRisi and Quake were chatting as part of the Facebook CEO’s series of discussions focused on the future of technology and society. Throughout the conversation, they touched on the challenges and advantages of using implanted technology to read a human’s neurons. Quake said there are health risks involved with implantable technology, while DeRisi pointed out that implantables can decode real-time inner speech that could help people with limited physical or speech abilities from a stroke, for example.

“That kind of detailed real-time information has never been possible from surface readings,” DeRisi said. “You actually have to get under the skull and touch neurons.”

Zuckerberg said that people could eventually use devices like the CTRL-labs wristband to control things with their thoughts, assuming they have motor neurons. But those with physical limitations may need an implanted device to do the same, he said.

“I have enough neural capacity in my motor neurons to probably control another extra hand, it’s just a matter of training that and then they can pick up those signals off of the wrist,” Zuckerberg said. “But if your ability to translate things that are going on in your brain into motor activity is limited then you need something implanted.”

Facebook has been working on brain-computing technology since 2016 as part of the company’s Building 8 division, which was a skunkworks lab launched to boost the company’s efforts in developing consumer hardware products. The company provided an update on its brain-computing efforts in July, saying that research conducted with the University of California, San Francisco showed progress but was still years away from commercialization.

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