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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

Facebook starts handing out merit badges like we’re Girl Scouts

(TECH NEWS) Facebook offers merit badges to users, and it’s pretty neat, but we’re also rolling our eyes.

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According to some Facebook Group administrators, Facebook has today rolled out merit badges. So far in the wild, we’ve spotted “Conversation Starter” which praises the admin (or user) for starting engaging posts that got the conversation going.

We have asked numerous users if they’ve seen these badges, and so far it appears that only one badge has been rolled out, potentially with more on the way. Upon logging into the group where you have earned a badge, you’ll see a notification at the top of the feed informing you of your new badge (get out your vest, it’s time to start collecting them all)!

The merit badge that you’ve earned shows up in your profile when other group members (where you’ve earned the merit badge) click on your face:

Currently, when an Admin posts in the group, it still only has their Admin badge next to their name, not the “Conversation Starter” or other badges lined up next to it, but if a regular group member has posted something engaging, the badge appears next to their name (it may be a one-badge-limit so far, maybe hold off on buying a Girl Scout vest for your badge collection):

Lastly, users apparently do have control over the display of whichever neato merit badges we eventually earn or collect:

There is no word on what the ultimate plan is or what merit badges will be awarded, and it appears to be limited to Facebook Groups at the present.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment and will update the story as we learn more. For now, if you want a badge, you can at least get a “Conversation Starter” badge in Facebook Groups, so go get ’em – we’ll soon know which other badges we can earn slash collect slash compete for slash game.

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Tech News

Slack video messaging tool for the ultra lazy (or productive) person

(TECHNOLOGY) Courtesy of a company called Standuply, Slack’s notable lack of video-messaging options is finally addressed.

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Slack — the popular chat and workflow app — is still going strong despite its numerous technical shortcomings, one of which is its notable lack of native video or audio chat. If you’re an avid Slack user, you might be interested in Standuply’s solution to this missing feature: video and audio messaging.

While it isn’t quite the Skype-esque experience for which one might hope when booting up Slack, Standuply’s video messages add-on gives you the ability to record and send a video or audio recording to any Slack channel. This makes things like multitasking a breeze; unless you’re a god among mortals, your talking speed is significantly faster than your typing, making video- or audio-messaging a viable productivity move.

The way you’ll record and send the video or audio message is a bit convoluted: using a web browser and a private Slack link, you can record up to five minutes of content, after which point the content is uploaded to YouTube as a private item. You can then use the item’s link to send the video or audio clip to your Skype channel.

While this is a fairly roundabout way of introducing video chat into Slack, the end result is still a visual conversation which is conducive to long-term use.

Sending video and audio messages may feel like an exercise in futility (why use a third-party tool when one could just type?) but the amount of time and energy you can save while simultaneously responding to feedback or beginning your next task adds up.

Similarly, having a video that your team can circle back to instead of requiring them to scroll through until they find your text post on a given topic is better for long-term productivity.

And, if all else falls short, it’s nice to see your remote team’s faces and hear their voices every once in a while—if for no other reason than to reassure yourself that they aren’t figments of your overly caffeinated imagination.

At the time of this writing, the video chat portion of the Slack bot is free; however, subsequent pricing tiers include advanced aspects such as integration with existing services, analytics, and unlimited respondents.

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Tech News

This phishing simulator tests your company’s (lack of) readiness

(TECHNOLOGY) Phishero is a tool which tests your organization’s resistance to phishing attacks. Pro tip: Most companies aren’t ready.

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In the wake of any round of cyberattacks, many organizations question whether they’re prepared to defend themselves against things like hacking or other forms of information theft. In reality, the bulk of workplace data thievery comes from a classic trick: phishing.

Phishing is a catch-all phrase for a specific type of information theft which involves emailing. Typically, a phishing email will include a request for sensitive data, such as a password, a copy of a W-4, or an account’s details (e.g., security questions); the email itself will often appear to come from someone within the organization.

Similar approaches include emailing a link which acts as a login page for a familiar site (e.g., Facebook) but actually stores your account information when you sign in.

Luckily, there’s a way for you to test your business’ phishing readiness.

Phishero, a tool designed to test employee resistance to phishing attacks, is a simple solution for any business looking to find any weak links in their cybersecurity.

The tool itself is designed to do four main things: identify potential targets, find a way to design a convincing phishing scheme, implement the phishing attack, and analyze the results.

Once Phishero has a list of your employees, it is able to create an email based on the same web design used for your company’s internal communications. This email is then sent to your selected recipient pool, from which point you’ll be able to monitor who opens the email.

Once you’ve concluded the test, you can use Phishero’s built-in analytics to give you an at-a-glance overview of your organization’s security.

The test results also include specific information such as which employees gave information, what information was given, and pain points in your current cybersecurity setup.

Phishing attacks are incredibly common, and employees – especially those who may not be as generationally skeptical of emails – are the only things standing between your company and catastrophic losses if they occur in your business. While training your employees on proper email protocol out of the gate is a must, Phishero provides an easy way to see how effective your policies actually are.

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