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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

iOS 15 beta has blur nude photos opt-in, but its not without fault

(TECH NEWS) To protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos.

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Woman looking at Apple iPhone representing new iOS 15 beta that will blur nude photos.

In a move to protect children from explicit content, the most recent beta version of iOS 15 includes a feature that allows users to blur nude photos received in the Messages app. Amid privacy concerns, the feature has yet to be released.

The option to blur nude photos is opt-in, reports The Verge, and does not prevent users from choosing to view the photos in question even after being implemented.

This iteration of the feature is distinct from the original one insofar as it will no longer alert a parent or guardian when nude photos are encountered. While this may seem like a controversial change, several experts pointed out that exposing nude content on a child’s device in some households could result in abuse or, as Harvard Cyberlaw Clinic instructor Kendra Albert suggests, the outing of “queer or transgender children to their parents.”

With the most recent version of this feature enabled, children who receive inappropriate photos via the Messages app would be able to do two things: choose to avoid (or see) the content, and choose to send a report to a trusted adult if they see fit to do so.

Blurring photos is just one of several aspects of Apple’s Communication Safety suite, a feature that aims to prevent child sex abuse by making it easier for children to avoid and report predatory content.

 

Child on electronic device- iOS 15 beta that will allow blur nude photos should protect children.

Another feature that Apple has tested – but not released – is their Child Sex Abuse Imagery Detection (CSAM-detection), which scans and reports iCloud content that shows child pornography or abuse to Apple moderators for further review. As one can imagine, the feature drew mixed criticism, the majority of which came from privacy advocates.

While the vast majority of humanity can (hopefully) agree that fighting against child exploitation is a noble cause, these groups argue that scanning and reporting individuals’ personal photos via an algorithm opens the door to government interference and increased surveillance. Switching the algorithm’s baseline to scan for things like anti-government content, for example, would be easy, these groups posit, making the feature extremely dangerous in principle.

There is no current release date set for any of these aforementioned features, though iPhone users can reasonably expect them to drop at some point during iOS 15’s development.

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Tech News

Amazon Music debuts synchronized text transcripts for popular podcasts

(TECH) The first feature to hit Amazon Music is auto-generated and synchronized text transcripts for their most popular podcast shows. Sign us up!

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Amazon Music Transcripts

Amazon set out to accelerate the growth and evolution of podcasts last year by acquiring the podcasting network, Wondery. Now, the company is doing just that with the launch of its auto-generated and synchronized podcast transcripts feature on Amazon Music.

According to an Amazon Music tweet, with this feature, you’ll be able to “Roll it back, jump ahead, and follow along” with the podcast you’re listening to. For instance, you can scrub through the transcript to find that line of text with that quote or movie and book suggestion you can’t quite remember. When you tap on a particular line of text in the transcript, you’ll be able to jump straight into that specific part of the podcast. I can already see all the time saved! But, if you just want to read along as you listen, you can do that, too. The transcript will match the audio as you’re hearing it.

Right now, the company is only rolling out podcast transcripts in the US on both iOS and Android devices. When it will expand to other countries isn’t known, and the feature isn’t available for all podcasts yet. For now, it is only available on a selection of popular podcasts like Smartless, Crime Junkie, This American Life, Uncommon Ground, and Modern Love, but more are coming.

Amazon Music Homescreen

To use it, all you have to do is open the podcasts tab on Amazon Music and select one of the podcasts you’d like to listen to. Of course, you’ll need to select a show with the podcast transcription feature to see it. When your show is playing, on the top of the album art and in fullscreen mode, the transcriptions will be available for you to read along to.

Oh, and if you’re worried about having to read through the ads, you have nothing to fret about. Ads won’t be transcribed. Instead, the transcription will read “audio not transcribed” when they are playing.

So far, Amazon seems to be going strong in the podcasting game with the release of podcast transcripts. The feature makes it easy to search and find what you are looking for in a show. And, for those on a long and noisy bus and subway ride, you’ll finally be able to read the information you previously couldn’t hear.

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Tech News

UX design: If you don’t have it, get yourself an audit made easy

(TECH NEWS) UX design is important. By conducting a simple audit to make sure your site is accessible, you can minimize the number of people that quickly go away.

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Two UX design people standing in front of a whiteboard with a UX map.

A good UX design is essential in attracting and retaining customers. A seamless and positive experience will keep customers happy and bring your business many benefits, like increasing audience engagement and sales.

But, how do you know if your user experience is in need of help, so people don’t bounce away quickly? Well, if UX is not your forte, the best thing to do is to hire a good UX designer. Unfortunately, sometimes hiring one isn’t always within the budget.

So, what do you do then? The next best thing is to conduct a UX audit of your website or app. Not sure where to begin? Fulcrum’s Do It Yourself UX Audit kit is one place to start.

According to the website, this DIY UX audit “can help you gain valuable insights about the usability of your product.” The tool detects problems in your UX, prioritizes them for you, and finds out how you can fix any existing issues.

The tool is made out of free easy-to-use Notion templates. These UX audit checklists are all customizable, and you can print them or save them on your Notion dashboard to use later.

Inside each template, there are cards with descriptions and examples. Depending on if you meet certain criteria or not, you drag and drop the card into the “Yes” or “No” column. When you’re finished, you will easily see what issues you have, and you can work on fixing them.

The templates are divided into Junior and Middle-level templates.

The Junior level has templates for things such as field and forms, login, mobile UX, and architecture. Most of these templates help make sure you cover your basic UX bases. For instance, it looks at whether your website is desktop and mobile-friendly, and if each element makes sense and is easily identifiable.

The Middle Level dives in a little deeper. The “Visibility of system status” audit checks if you are keeping your audience informed on what’s going on. Things like battery life, loading, or Wi-Fi connection indicators can make a huge difference. No one wants to stare at a screen with no clue if what they clicked on is working or not.

If you can afford it and want a UX virtuoso to do the work for you, you can get a UX audit from Fulcrum. The experts will conduct a full-fledged UX audit and create wireframes with solutions for your UX issues.

However, no matter how you go about it, a good UX design is important. Higher rate conversions and user retention won’t happen if your product is just pushing people away.

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