"It sounds impossible but it's closer than you realize", said Regina Dugan, who leads a team at Building 8, the company's research lab, during a speech at Facebook's developer conference. We only share some of those thoughts as speech, which Dugan describes as essentially a compression algorithm.
"That is why we love great writers and poets, because they are just a little bit better at compressing the fullness of a thought into words". We're working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today.
Billionaire executive Elon Musk has launched a competing project, Neuralink Corp., with the aspiration to upload and download thoughts through implanted tiny brain electrodes.
Far-fetched as it may sound, Dugan said researchers have already found it possible to use brain waves for typing at eight words per minute.
Dugan showed a video of a woman named Frances for whom Facebook built an artificial cochlea.
Facebook is looking at creating "silent-speech interfaces" based on sensors that could be worn, and made in quantity.
"You take many photos, you choose to share some of them", she said during her keynote. With this new speech system, Dugan envisions a scenario where you can quickly think an email - since the brain operates much faster than humans can relay information - rather than having to type it out and hit send.
Such technology could let people fire off text messages or emails by thinking, instead of needing to interrupt what they are doing to use smartphone touchscreens, for example. Frances wears a black sleeve on her arm, and it transmits different frequencies associated with different words to her skin. "Even something as simple as a "yes/no" brain click or a "brain mouse" would be transformative".
A few minutes ago at F8, we shared a project we're working on that will one day allow us to choose to share a thought, .
Other ideas detailed at the company's developers conference in San Jose included work to allow people to "hear" through skin.
Dugan says that "no one has the right" to decode your silent thoughts, but the fact that's even something that has to be said says something scary about where technology is headed.
"One day, not so far away, it may be possible for me to think in Mandarin, and you to feel it instantly in Spanish", Ms Dugan said.
But Dugan did stress that Facebook isn't blindly pursuing technological advancement without considering the implications.
Though details on this project are slim, the social media company compared its new project with braille, which translates specific surface textures into words and is used by those who are visually impaired. "We ask questions about technological progress and we always will", she said.
Facebook started the Building 8 group past year, and put it in the hands of Dugan, who had previously led an advanced-technology projects group at Google.
Dugan previously ran the USA military's research lab, DARPA, and then worked at Google before joining Facebook, and her work thus far has been kept private.