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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.

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Loss of internet access is used as punishment for those who abuse it

(TECH NEWS) Internet access is becoming more of a human right especially in light of recent events –so why is revoking it being used as a punishment?

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Internet access

When one hears the word “punishment”, several things likely come to mind—firing, fees, jail time, and even death for the dramatic among us—but most people probably don’t envision having their access to utilities restricted as a legal repercussion.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening across the country—if you consider Internet access a utility.

In the past, you’ve probably heard stories about people awaiting trial or experiencing probation limitations being told that they are not to use the Internet or certain types of communication. While this may seem unjust, the circumstances usually provide some context for the extreme nature of such a punishment; for example, it seems reasonable to ask that a person accused of downloading child pornography keep off the internet.

More recently–and perhaps more controversially—a young man accused of using social media to incite violent behavior during country-wide protests was ordered to stay offline while awaiting trial. This order came after the individual purportedly encouraged people to “[tip] police cars”, vandalize property, and generally exhibit other “riot”-oriented behaviors.

Whether or not one reads this post as a specific call to create violence—something that is, in fact, illegal—the fact remains that the “punishment” for this crime in lieu of a current conviction involves cutting off the person involved from all internet access until a verdict is achieved.

The person involved in this story may be less than sympathetic depending on your stance, but they aren’t alone. The response of cutting off the Internet in this case complements other stories we’ve seen, such as one regarding Cox and a client in Florida. Allegedly, the client in question paid for unlimited data—a potential issue in and of itself—and then exceeded eight terabytes of monthly use on multiple occasions.

Did Cox correct their plan, allocate more data, throttle this user, or reach out to explain their concerns, you may ask?

No. Cox alerted the user in question that they would terminate his account if his use continued to be abnormally high, and in the meantime, they throttled the user’s ENTIRE neighborhood. This kind of behavior would be unacceptable when applied to any other utility (imagine having your air conditioning access “throttled” during the summer), so why is it okay for Cox?

The overarching issue in most cases stems from Internet provider availability; in many areas, clients have one realistic option for an Internet provider, thus allowing that provider to set prices, throttle data, and impose restrictions on users free of reproach.

Anyone who has used Comcast, Cox, or Cable One knows how finicky these services can be regardless of time of use, and running a simple Google speed test is usually enough to confirm that the speeds you pay for and the speeds you receive are rarely even close.

In the COVID era in which we find ourselves, it is imperative that Internet access be considered more than just a commodity: It is a right, one that cannot be revoked simply due to a case of overuse here, or a flaw in a data plan there.

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Tech News

Integrate language learning into daily browsing with this new extension

(TECH NEWS) Interested in learning a second language but struggling to find the time? This new extension helps you learn French with no added time commitment.

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Woman seated on couch with laptop open to Fluent, a language learning extension on Chrome.

Language education software has long struggled to help students who don’t have sufficient time to study and practice. Sparing ten minutes a day on Duolingo for language learning is a really big commitment for some folks, even during a quarantine (but hey, no judgement here). Fortunately, Fluent has arrived to eliminate your remaining excuses for being monolingual.

Fluent is a new browser extension that helps you practice French while you browse the web. By replacing words in your native language with vocabulary in your target language, everything that you read through your web browser becomes a tiny bit bilingual. Slowly, Fluent acclimates your brain to seeing and translating foreign words automatically by teaching them through contexts that you’re already familiar with. Right now it’s only available in French, but new language offerings are already in the works.

On their producthunt.com page, co-founder Ara Ghougassian says that Fluent “helps by removing the friction to practice; you install Fluent and instantly you’re learning new vocabulary right inside your browser. No apps, no notifications, no setting time aside to study.”

As a language learner myself, I love the idea of seamlessly integrating my studies into daily life. There’s nothing quite like being able to read in your target language. With Fluent, users are able to do that right away. Drills and flashcards are okay, but straight-up memorization isn’t a very engaging or intuitive way to learn.

That being said, if you’re serious about learning a language, it’s worth giving yourself a reality check here: There is no singular, effortless, or fast way to become proficient. There’s no avoiding the fact that real fluency does take considerable time and effort. Language learning is just like building up your muscles: You have to consistently exercise if you want to get stronger.

So while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you rely on Fluent alone to study, the extension is a great introduction to developing those habits in your language learning. This particularly helps folks who find the idea of picking up a new language from scratch intimidating. But if you’re just curious about French, you’ll love its bite-sized approach to learning new words (not to mention, the hint of French on every webpage means you’ll feel a little bit posh while you’re surfing the web)!

Language skills are a wonderful way to invest in yourself, expand your career prospects, and unlock doors to new cultures; Fluent makes it easy to get started on your journey. Bonne chance!

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Tech News

Goal-based project management tool simplifies your work life

(TECH NEWS) If you are struggling to keep tasks straight then this new tool Qoals allows for a simpler and more straightforward way to accomplish goals as a team.

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Qoals pitch

We all have goals – whether they be personal, professional, financial, etc. Anyone can set a goal, all it takes is having a thought and assigning it a certain level of importance. However, not everyone completes their goals due to the oft difficulties and confusions associated with execution.

Like anything else, if there’s a will, there’s a way. A new way has been found in the form of Qoals – a simple and straightforward tool that helps you to get aligned around business goals instead of an endless wall of tasks.

The ability to complete goals is done through: setting goals, adding tasks, collecting things, and tracking progress. With this, everyone on your team has access to this information to keep tabs on what’s happening.

With setting goals, you create and prioritize your goals, letting your team members know which ones are most important at that time. Goals can be prioritized with tabs such as: long term, short term, and urgent. By adding tasks, you can add and assign tasks to set a clear path in order to complete set goals.

In collecting things, you collect resources related to your goal and keep them in one safe place (again, this is accessible to your whole team). This doesn’t require uploading files, but simply including links to resources to keep everything easily accessible. Finally, by tracking progress, everyone on the team can see where you’re at with your goals – which saves time with the follow ups of “how’s Goal X going?”

Why did Qoals develop this goal-oriented approach? “It’s about time we simplify things,” according to the official website. “Get aligned around goals and let everyone know what’s important for the business. Add goals under various projects and start adding tasks and resources to make that goal happen.”

Additionally, Qoals boasts that this provides users with a birds-eye view of what’s happening with their team, allowing them to be more human-centric. You can create unlimited projects, set and track your goals, collected everything related to said goal, keep the discussion relevant, access your tasks with one click, stay connected to your team, and see what’s going on at a glance.
Qoals is currently in beta.

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