Brain computer interfaces are developing faster than the policy debate around them

A few days ago Facebook broke away from a difficult investigation by the Federal Trade Commission into how the company violated user privacy. And then, with that issue exactly over, Facebook stepped forward on Tuesday to share some information about his efforts to read our minds.

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Two years after the company announced its mind-reading initiative, Facebook has an update to share. The company sponsored an experiment conducted by researchers at the University of San Francisco, where they built an interface for decoding spoken dialogues of brain signals. The results were published today in Nature communication.

The work itself is fascinating, as you can expect from the subject. Brain computer interfaces are not new, but the existing ones are not particularly efficient – especially those where your skills are not being used. Facebook's approach is based on high-density electrocorticography, also known as ECoG, which implants sensors in the brain and uses them to record brain activity.

And the most recent research was apparently promising, Adi Robertson reports:

If participants hear someone ask, "Which musical instrument do you prefer to listen to," they would respond with one of many options such as "violin" or "drums" while recording their brain activity. The system guesses when they ask and answer a question, and then guesses the contents of both speech events. The predictions were formed by earlier context – so as soon as the system determined which question topics they heard, it would reduce the range of likely answers. The system could produce results with an accuracy of 61 to 76 percent, compared to the accidentally expected 7 to 20 percent.

"Here we show the value of decoding both sides of a conversation – both the questions someone hears and what they answer," said lead author and professor of neurosurgery at UCSF, Edward Chang, in a statement. But Chang noted that this system recognizes only a very limited number of words so far; participants were only asked nine questions with 24 total answer options. The subjects in the study – who were prepared for epilepsy surgery – used highly invasive implants. And they spoke aloud, they didn't just think about it.

If successful, the work will have important clinical applications – for example, it can help patients who have lost the ability to communicate. Facebook hopes that technology will have a broader use – what former Facebook project leader Regina Dugan once had a & # 39; brain click & # 39; called. Allow people to click through dialogs with their minds, she told us in 2017, and you create many interesting new opportunities for augmented and virtual reality.

That goal stays very far away. But that seems like a good time to ask if anything of this work should be done in the first place. Antonio Regalado & # 39; s piece about the Facebook experiment understands why:

"For me, the brain is the only safe place for freedom of thought, fantasies and divergent opinions," says Nita Farahany, a professor at Duke University who specializes in neuroethics. "We are almost reaching the last limit of privacy without any protection."

Facebook in turn included a section on ethics in his blog post on the subject, mentioning Mark Chevillet, director of the Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) research program at Facebook Reality Labs:

"We cannot anticipate or solve all the ethical problems of this technology," says Chevillet. “What we can do is recognize when the technology has gone beyond what people know is possible, and ensure that information is delivered back to the community. Neuroethical design is one of the most important pillars of our program – we want to be transparent about what we are working on so that people can tell us their concerns about this technology. "

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It has also promised to let its investigation be guided by an ethics committee.

Of course, even invasive technology can hardly distinguish between a speaker who & # 39; fertilizing & # 39; says versus a speaker who & # 39; synthesizer & # 39; says. a real public conversation about them can take place.

And so it is worth noting that Facebook is not excluded use brain activity for advertising purposes at some point in the future. In some ways it feels like the logical conclusion of an advertising monolith. The entire company is based on reading your mind, no matter how it may be, either by letting you share all your demographic data in a profile or by reading your brain waves through a cap on your skull. In some ways it would be stranger than Facebook not try to use your brain activity for advertising purposes.

Brain computer interfaces seem to have a lot of promise for medical use – something that Elon Musk, who is also researching the technology through his company Neuralink, is currently focusing on. But they also seem to entail a high risk of anti-democratic surveillance.

A futuristic headset that reads our minds to let us click through dialog prompts is good and good. But I'm worried about how it could be used if the technology got much better. And that's probably a conversation we want to start before Facebook and other companies make too much progress.

Democracy

New invoice would prohibit the automatic playback of video & # 39; s and endless scrolling

Here's a fascinating, but probably doomed bill from Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) that would ban many popular growth hacks and engagement mechanics. From Makena Kelly:

Hawley & # 39; s Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or the SMART law, would prohibit these features that keep users on platforms longer, along with others, such as Snapstreaks, that encourage the continued use of these products. If approved, the Federal Trade Commission and Health and Human Services could prepare similar rules that would expire after three years, unless Congress codified them into legislation.

"Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction," Hawley said. "Too much of the" innovation "in this space is not meant to make better products, but to attract more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away."

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TikTok is exhibition A in the case "we are not a monopoly" of Facebook

The instant success of TikTok has given Facebook a fig leaf of evidence that Facebook is not a monopoly, reports David McCabe. Counterpoint: you do knowhow many Facebook ads TikTok had to buy to get there?

People familiar with Facebook's thinking about competition issues said that Facebook sees the rapid growth of TikTok as an important example in its broader antitrust defense.

The company considers it primarily as evidence that Facebook's reach has not limited the barriers to entry for new startup social products, one of the people said.

Canada & # 39; s new partisan media are about to drive a Facebook wave to election day

A large team from BuzzFeed wrote the rise of hyperpartisan media in Canada on Facebook:

North99 is part of a new wave of advocacy media – both left and right – reaching more Canadians than ever before, thanks to smart approaches to Facebook. These pages and associated websites generate millions of shares, comments and comments, and sometimes overshadow the country's largest newspapers and broadcasters on the platform, according to a new analysis by BuzzFeed News and the Toronto Star.

But the lines between traditional news reporting – with clear editorial standards and accountability – and these new media players can be difficult to distinguish, especially when according to experts you are distracted by your news feed.

Here, Facebook & # 39; s record of $ 5 billion goes well

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Turns out that it just goes into the American treasure chest! Sounds like it can be cool until you remember that the national debt is $ 22 trillion.

Trump & # 39; s Baltimore Tweets do not violate the company's new rules

An emerging genre of story is: & # 39; Twitter does nothing about the president's tweet & # 39 ;. Recently, Twitter did nothing about some tweets involving a black member of Congress and its district.

The Chinese Kunlun in Beijing is visiting Grindr's IPO again

In March, the US government took action to suggest that it considered gay affiliation app Grindr a matter of national security. But in a surprise turn it changed course this week, Meg Shen and Echo Wang report:

Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech Co. Ltd. said on Monday that it would revive plans for a first public offer (IPO) from the popular gay dating app Grindr Inc after an American national security panel had dropped its opposition to the plan.

Kunlun said in May that it had agreed to a request from the Foreign Investments Committee in the United States (CFIUS) to sell Grindr, to set a deadline for this in June 2020 and to hold preparations for an IPO of Grindr.

Elsewhere

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Gilroy shooter promoted white supremacist treatise on Instagram

Ugh:

Shortly before Sunday's massive shooting in Gilroy, the 19-year-old who committed the crime used his Instagram account to promote a book that is generally regarded as a manifestation of white supremacy that provides insight into the unknown motivation of the shooter. (…)

In an Instagram post written about an hour before the disaster, (the shooter) encouraged people to & # 39; Might Is Right or the Survival of the Fittest & # 39; to read. Originally published in 1890 and since then reissued by a handful of small publishing houses, the randboek is a call to action against the alleged tyranny of government and organized religion. The 96-page & # 39; s work encourages the & # 39; strong & # 39; to top the & # 39; weak & # 39; to stand.

Apple joins Google, Facebook and Twitter in a data sharing project

Russell Brandom reports on a rare positive, pro-competition initiative for sharing data between tech giants and their much smaller competitors:

Just over a year after the official launch, the Data Transfer Project is that announcement of a new set of partners and functions. Today, Apple announced it will join the project and develop interoperable systems to bring data in and out of iCloud. A number of alternative social networks have also been added Tim Berners-Lee's solid project for importing and exporting contacts, and Mastodon for importing and exporting messages.

An open source project that is aimed at making data transfer from one service to another easier. The Data Transfer project consisted mainly of back-end coding to make data export tools such as Google Takeout and Facebook & # 39; s Access Your Information tool compatible with each other. At the moment you can use these tools to download data directly to your hard drive, but the hope is that the code of the project may allow the data to be transferred directly to another service. That would allow you to send all your Facebook photos to a Google Photos account, for example, with no intermediate step and a smaller possibility of leaked data.

Facebook design error allows thousands of children to participate in chats with unauthorized users

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As someone who thought Messenger Kids was icky from the start, I read it with an extremely self-satisfied expression:

Facebook & # 39; s Messenger Kids app is built around a simple principle: children should not be able to talk to users who have not been approved by their parents. But a design flaw allowed users to bypass protection through the group chat system, allowing children with unauthorized strangers to get into group chat.

Facebook has quietly closed those group chats and warned users over the past week, but has not made any public statements announcing the issue.

Facebook Watch attracts more advertisers

Sahil Patel finds signs of life on the video platform of Facebook:

Advertisers are warmed up to look somewhat as time goes by, buyers say.

A senior media buyer, who oversees more than $ 350 million in marketing spend for marketers every year, said he plans to spend at least $ 1 million on ads in Watch this year. That is not a huge amount, but he did not advertise on Watch at all last year. It is part of a larger deal that the buyer has signed with Facebook to spend more than $ 10 million on Facebook video ads in 2019, an increase of 50%, the buyer said.

Twitter adds 5 million users; Highest estimated sales

It was very strange to hear on vacation that Twitter is doing well … pretty well? Like, as one company?

Revenue in the second quarter was $ 841 million, an increase of 18% compared to the same quarter last year and higher than the estimated $ 829 million analysts. The company added 5 million daily users in the period, bringing the total to 139 million. That was the largest annual increase since the summer of 2017.

The net result, excluding certain items, was $ 37 million, or 5 cents per share. That compares to $ 58 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier, Twitter said.

The YouTubers Union does not mess

An organized workers' movement for YouTubers is moving in Europe, reports Edward Ongweso Jr.:

The YouTubers Union, a community movement fighting for the rights of content creators and users, has joined forces with IG Metall, The largest trade union in Germany and the largest trade union in Europe. Together they have started a joint venture FairTube and sent a letter of requirements to YouTube accompanied by a video explaining their concerns, requirements and action plan.

The move is one of the most important organized labor actions undertaken by creators on the platform, and places a real factual power behind what has been a budding and disorganized movement so far.

Bollywood Rapper Sets Viewer Record YouTube is not talking about it

Lucas Shaw explains how earned YouTubers statistics from gaming platforms are by buying ads:

When releasing a new single, large record labels purchase an advertisement on YouTube that places their music video among other clips. If viewers view the ad for longer than a few seconds, YouTube counts it as a view, increasing the total total. Blackpink and Swift did it among other things. Badshah went one step further, say people familiar with this.

Practice raises doubts about the real popularity of these clips and reveals some of the dark ways artists and their labels promote their music – especially in emerging markets. YouTube, a Google subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., is now evaluating the way it evaluates records, according to two people familiar with the company's thinking.

Now even funerals are livestreamed – and families are grateful

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Here is a story from Martineau from Paris about a phenomenon that seems inevitable, useful and a little sad:

In a culture that is obsessed with tweeting and Instagramming at every moment of life, it is no surprise that streaming extends to death. Funeral streaming services have been around for more than a decade, but the practice has recently exploded in popularity, says Bryant Hightower, president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association. He estimates that nearly 20 percent of American funeral homes now offer the service – a large number in a change-resistant industry – in response to customer demand. Technically educated entrepreneurs offer live streaming as a service for hesitant funeral directors.

Snapchat is rolling out the first major global advertising campaign after increasing user growth

Snap has a new advertising campaign focused on celebrating & # 39; real friends & # 39 ;, as opposed to the ones you follow on Instagram. Brutally, Snap paid influencers to place Snap ads on Instagram, bringing their message to a core audience without paying Facebook for the privilege.

playlist

Land of the giants

My friend Jason del Rey has a deeply reported new podcast about the rise of Amazon. The second episode, released today, describes the Alexa development. Just listen!

launches

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Pinterest's new search function reduces stress in your feed

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It has been a slow week for launches so far, so here is one of my holidays: a new Pinterest anti-fear initiative built into the product itself:

When you type a fear related question – something like & # 39; work anxiety & # 39; or & # 39; dealing with stress & # 39 ;, a box is now displayed above the pin stream. "If you feel sad or stressed, here are some sources that can help improve your mood," says a disclaimer stating that Pinterest's exercises are not a substitute for professional care. You can click in the box to see more or scroll down to view only the pins.

takes

Facebook gets a new commission

I enjoyed the vision of Matt Levine whether the new Facebook privacy monitoring committee will be independent in practice, given Mark Zuckerberg's controlling share:

Again, I think Chopra is probably right that in practical terms there are serious limits to how aggressive and effective the commission can be in protecting user privacy. And like me suggested yesterday, if you think that Facebook and other large internet companies are systemically important institutions that should have formal responsibilities for both the public and shareholders, then the way to do this is probably through carefully considered general legislation rather than through an agreed arrangement that is only binding is Facebook. But if the FTC takes a part of Facebook & # 39; s governance out of the hands of shareholders (Zuckerberg), the FTC suggests that, even in a limited and symbolic way, the FTC does think so and Facebook admits that it is true. If you think Facebook is too big to fail and should be regulated as a public utility, well, then you won't be happy with this scheme, but it's a very teenage first step in that direction.

And finally …

Click here to view the visual metaphor here, in which cotton candy dissolves immediately upon hitting the water. It is, as they say on Reddit, strangely satisfactory:

Talk to me

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Send me tips, comments, questions and ideas for building brain-computer interfaces: casey@theverge.com.

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