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Brain-to-text Technology? Facebook is studying ways for people to communicate by thought and touch

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Regina Dugan, vice president of engineering of Building 8 at Facebook, speaks on stage during the second day of the annual Facebook F8 developers conference in San Jose, California, April 19, 2017. VOA
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Facebook on Wednesday pulled aside the curtain on a secretive unit headed by a former chief of the Pentagon’s research arm, disclosing that the social media company is studying ways for people to communicate by thought and touch.

Facebook launched the research shop, called Building 8, last year to conduct long-term work that might lead to hardware products. In charge of the unit is Regina Dugan, who led a similar group at Alphabet’s Google and was previously director of the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

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Dugan told software developers at Facebook’s annual F8 conference that the company was modeling Building 8 after DARPA, a government office founded in the 1950s that gave the world the internet and the miniaturized GPS receivers used in consumer devices.

Any hardware rollouts are years away, Dugan said in a speech. Potential products could, if successful, be a way for Facebook to diversify beyond its heavy reliance on advertising revenue.

One example of Building 8’s work so far, Dugan said, was an attempt to improve technology that allows people to type words using their minds.

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“It sounds impossible, but it’s closer than you may realize,” Dugan said.

Using brain implants, people can already type eight words a minute, she said. Facebook’s goal, working with researchers at several U.S. universities, is to make the system non-invasive, as well as fast enough so that people can type 100 words a minute just by thinking.

Possible uses include helping disabled people and “the ability to text your friend without taking out your phone,” she said.

Another Building 8 project, she said, was trying to advance the ability to communicate through touch only, an idea with roots in Braille, a writing system for the blind and visually impaired.

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A video played at the conference showed two Facebook employees talking to each other through touch. As one employee, Frances, wore an electronic device on her arm, the other, Freddy, used a computer program to send pressure changes to her arm.

“If you ask Frances what she feels,” Dugan said, “she’ll tell you that she has learned to feel the acoustic shape of a word on her arm.”

In December, Facebook signed a deal with 17 universities including Harvard and Princeton to allow swifter collaboration on projects with Dugan’s team. (VOA)

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Facebook not yet ready with digital payments on Messenger in India

When launched, the new payments feature is set to give a tough competition to Paytm and other digital payment services like Google Tez

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The Facebook's image.
Facebook not ready for online payments. Pixabay

Facebook has no plans as of now to bring digital payment facility to its Messenger application in India, informed sources said on Thursday. “There are currently no tests planned for recharges or peer-to-peer payments on Messenger in India,” the sources told IANS.

Factor Daily had reported that Facebook has begun a beta version of recharge payments for mobile phone and other prepaid services on Messenger. “Mobile recharge option is a Facebook ‘Marketplace’ offering — which is actually going on as a pilot test which is right now available to only Android users in some regions,” the sources added.

The icon of Facebook.
Facebook has many fake profiles. Pixabay

Launched in 2016, Marketplace is a user-to-user exchange platform for buying and selling goods with others within the community. Currently, the peer-to-peer payment service on Messenger is available for its users in the US and the UK.

More than 1.3 billion people around the world are now using Facebook Messenger every month. The growth of Messenger now puts the app at par with Facebook-owned WhatsApp which also has over 1.3 billion monthly active users (MAUs). WhatsApp, however, has rolled out the testing phase of its digital payment feature in India — a first such move globally — which will be officially rolled out to its over 200 million Indian users in the days to come.

Also Read: Facebook introduces new privacy updates for EU users

When launched, the new payments feature is set to give a tough competition to Paytm and other digital payment services like Google Tez. The payments feature would take advantage of UPI (Unified Payments Interface) and include support by a number of banks, including the State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, and Axis Bank. IANS