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The future is here, Facebook is building brain-computer interfaces

(TECH NEWS) Facebook has a team of engineers studying and working on ways to make brain-computer interfaces a thing.

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Text with your mind

It’s finally here! The day I’ve been waiting for after a decade of reading dystopian fiction—mind to text messaging. Well, at least the first steps to getting there.

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On Wednesday, Facebook announced at F8 they have a team of 60 engineers building a brain-computer interface.

Remote control brain

This would theoretically let you control augmented and virtual reality with your mind. No typing, no screen, no controller.

It’s “direct brain interface,” which uses optical imaging to scan your brain, detecting internal speech.

The interface would scan your brain hundreds of times per second, translating thoughts to text.

Regina Dugan, Facebook’s R&D division Building 8 head, said the goal is to reach a typing speed of 100 words per minute. This is five times faster than how long it takes to type on a phone. Oh and guess what? No surgical implants required.

Building 8

Building 8’s project began six months ago, and they are now working with several universities. John Hopkins Medicine and John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco, and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are all involved in the project so far.

The researchers specialize in machine learning, decoding speech and language with optical neuroimaging systems.

Their technologies utilize advanced spatial resolution and neural prosthetics to interpret brain signals.

Add it to the list of hesitations about cyborgs

In all my excitement, I failed to consider that this is some people’s futuristic robot nightmare. Don’t worry, Facebook figured you would have some doubts. They assured TechCrunch that the technology won’t decode any random thought.

You have to decide to send the thought by sending it to the speech center of your brain in order to share.

Reassured? No, it still sounds kind of sketchy I suppose. Well, how about a way for humans to hear through skin? Building 8 is also working on prototypes that allow your skin to mimic hearing. The technology lets people hear through their skin by using a system that simulates the cochlea in your ear.

Delightfully vague

If you’re interested, Facebook is looking to hire a Brain-Computer Interface Engineer. Until recently, Building 8’s purpose was kind of secret. As in, no one really knew what they were doing and then some job listings showed up regarding machine learning and neuroimaging jobs.

This is all very secret lair sci-fi villain behavior, but I’m down.

Sure, this opens up some horrifying implications about our future as robo-human hybrid cyborgs. I don’t have faith in Facebook to execute this in a way that isn’t unsettling. But really, texting would be so much easier if we didn’t have to type with our thumbs.

Plus, developing these technologies would be a huge breakthrough for anyone currently unable to communicate through mainstream means.

We’re already in a world where implanted sensors allow paralyzed individuals to type with their minds. New research into brain-computer interface could mean this is possible without surgical implants.

Sci-fi in real life

Okay fine, I’ll admit it is a bit freaky. Ten years ago, Facebook hardly seemed likely to harbor in a sci-fi revolution. Now they’re at the forefront of dozens of innovative projects. Will these products have a sinister impact on our lives? Probably. But just like everything else Facebook does, we’ll complain for a while then get used to it.

#MindToText

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Tech News

Time is money and Clockify helps you make the most

(TECH NEWS) Tracking your time worked as a freelancer can easily be lost in the shuffle. A new tool has been designed to make this important aspect easier.

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After years of searching for a method that works for me in terms of organization and productivity, the answer seemed to be simple: a calendar I can write on and Post-It notes. This method is a little old school, but seems to get the job done for my organizational needs.

However, there are some things that slip through the cracks with this method, but it’s more user error than it is the actual practice. One thing I struggle with is keeping track of my freelance hours this way.

I have a tendency to guesstimate how much time I worked throughout the day and know that I wind up underdocumenting my hours. I would hate to know how much money I’ve missed out on keeping (sometimes inaccurate) handwritten notes.

But, like many other small scale issues, there is a simple solution. And that is found in the form of time trackers.

One of the newest members to join the online time tracker team is Clockify, who operates under the idea of “your time, your rules.” It is a free time tracking tool designed for agencies and freelancers.

Clockify allows users to manage as many team members, projects, and workspaces that you need in an effort to help your business run smoothly. This allows for a complete overview of team productivity.

The tool offers a way to enter time manually as well as clock time automatically. This way you can keep tabs on what you’re working on and assign and label time logs to the appropriate clients.

With this time tracking, you are able to generate weekly, monthly, and annual reports at any given time. These reports can be saved, exported, and shared with clients to give them more information about your work process.

The real-time tracking helps to improve business efficiency and gives more insight into what each team member is spending their time on. Having this information available can give visual representation of how to improve in the future.

Clockify currently exists in desktop format with iOS and Android apps coming soon.

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Russia vetoed cryptocurrency and came back with CryptoRuble

(TECH NEWS) Russia put a hard pass on other cryptocurrencies in their country so that they could hop in the crypto-game with their own CryptoRuble.

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Just days after The American Genius reported that the Russian Central Bank would attempt to block access to cryptocurrency trading cites, the Coin Telegraph has reported that the Russian government will issue its very own cryptocurrency, the CryptoRuble.

The report cited local Russian papers, who quoted the minister of communications, Nikolay Nikiforov.

Earlier this week, head of the Central Bank, Sergei Shvetsov, said that he would work with the Prosecutor General’s Office to ban Russian citizens from accessing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, calling such currencies a “negative phenomena for our markets” and a “pyramid scheme.”

Now it appears that the Kremlin will create its own cryptocurrency – one it can keep an eye on — which, some might argue, defeats the entire purpose of cryptocurrency.

However, like other cryptocurrencies the CryptoRuble will be based on blockchain and will presumably help prevent online fraud.

CryptoRubles will be exchangeable with regular Rubles, although the systems of exchange have not yet been set up. Experts think that Russia is hoping to stimulate e-commerce without the need for foreign money markets, which will allow them to have more independence from the United States.

According to Nikiforov, the Russian government is setting up its own cryptocurrency under the assumption that if they don’t, other European governments will.

Said NIkiforov, “I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after two months our neighbors in the EurAsEC will.”

Traders using CryptoRubles will be asked to provide documentation of retail transactions and services rendered – or pay a 13 percent tax for undocumented transactions, leaving a wide loophole for money laundering.

Critics say that Russia is trying to facilitate, while also profiting from money laundering; that the Kremlin is stealing the market from other cryptocurrencies; and that the CryptoRuble fundamentally defies the spirit of decentralization that inspired other cryptocurrencies.

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Microsoft’s overseas email storage piqued the Supreme Court’s interest

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft has been in a pretty large dispute about storing user emails abroad and the Supreme Court has taken an interest in it.

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The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case that will decide whether or not U.S. law enforcement officials can force tech companies to turn over emails and data stored in overseas servers.

The case will review a lower court decision made in 2013 after federal officials attempted to obtain emails from Microsoft that would provide evidence for drug trafficking cases.

At that time, Microsoft refused to comply with the government, even though they had a warrant, instead taking the case to court, claiming that the U.S. government did not have the right to access data stored in servers in Ireland.

The court of appeals ruled in favor of Microsoft, citing a 1986 digital privacy law that allows law enforcement to obtain warrants for electronic communications, but not if the data is stored outside of the United States.

Judge Susan Carney said of the law, “Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statue envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas.”

The Trump Administration and the Justice Department say that this ruling has majorly blocked efforts to prosecute criminals.

“Under this opinion, hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes — ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud — are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” said Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall.

Because Microsoft stores data and communications closest to the user’s location, Wall said that the lower court’s decision made it all too easy for terrorists and other criminals to hide their communications by claiming to live in a foreign country when signing up for an account.

Microsoft argues that, instead of handing this decision over to the Supreme Court, legislators should update the 1986 law.

“The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud.” wrote Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a blog.

“We believe that rather than arguing over an old law in court, it is time for Congress to act by passing new legislation.”

In Congress, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) are pushing for just such an update with a piece of legislation called the Stored Communications Act.

Microsoft further argued that allowing U.S. law enforcement to obtain data from other countries was an “incursion” on those nations’ sovereignty, which would make U.S. citizens more vulnerable to foreign governments.

“If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” said Smith.

The Justice Department says that, along with Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and Yahoo have all stopped complying with search warrants since the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court will hear the case early in 2018 and hope to have a decision by June.

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