Facebook buys startup working on mind-control of machines

A screen grab from a CTRL-labs video shows Thomas "T.R." Reardon, CEO and co-founder of CTRL-labs, introducing the New York-based startup developing brain-machine interface hardware. CTRL-labs video via YouTube)
Updated 24 September 2019

Facebook buys startup working on mind-control of machines

  • Facebook said it intends to use the neural interface technology of CTRL-labs in developing a wristband that connects to other devices intuitively
  • The wristband will translate impulses into signals a device can comprehend

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook on Monday said it had made a deal to buy a startup working on ways to command computers or other devices using thought instead of taps, swipes, or keystrokes.
CTRL-labs will become part of Facebook Reality Labs with an aim at perfecting the technology and getting it into consumer products, according to Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at the California-based social network.
“We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology,” Bosworth said in a post at Facebook announcing the acquisition.
“And we want to build them. The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement.”
Bosworth explained that the wristband will decode electrical impulses such as those sent to hand muscles telling them to move certain ways, such as clicking a computer mouse or pressing a button.
The wristband will translate impulses into signals a device can comprehend, having thoughts rather than mouse clicks or button presses prompt actions on computers, according to Facebook.
“It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to,” Bosworth said.
“Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th century inventions in a 21st century world.”
He spoke of how thought-commanded interactions might dramatically alter how people experience augmented or virtual reality scenarios, which currently feature hand-held controls.
Facebook did not disclose financial terms of the deal to buy New York-based CTRL-labs, but unconfirmed media reports said it paid more than $500 million.
After Facebook bought virtual-reality gear startup Oculus in early 2014 in a deal valued at $2 billion, social network co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg heralded the technology as the next major computing platform.
Oculus has since built a line of virtual reality gear, pushing down the price and eliminating the need to be plugged in to a computer with its Quest VR headset.
In Early 2017, Facebook announced projects aimed at allowing users to use their minds to type messages or their skin to hear words.
The projects were the focus of a team of scientists, engineers, and system integrators with a goal of “creating a system capable of typing 100 words-per-minute straight from your brain,” Facebook said at the time.
Such brain-computer interface technology currently involves implanting electrodes, but Facebook wanted to use sensors that could be worn to eliminate the need to surgically intrude on the brain.
Such technology could for example let people fire off text messages or emails by thinking, instead of needing to interrupt what they are doing to use smartphone touchscreens.


Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

Updated 12 August 2020

Greek town bets on slow tourism to overcome virus

  • The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism

PREVEZA, Greece: Yannis Yovanos scans the waters of the Ambracian Gulf with his binoculars for dolphins shooting into the air before curving back down into the sea.

His early warnings prompt just a dozen tourists on the deck of Yovanos’ small boat to scramble for their smartphones, hoping to secure a snap of the aquatic mammals’ aerial acrobatics.

Officials in his home town of Preveza hope that it’s just this kind of small, family-run business that will help them overcome the coronavirus’ impact on travel — while sparing the region the environmental impact and economic distortions of the mass tourism more common on Crete or the Ionian islands.

“We don’t want to stay all day on a beach, we’re looking for a different experience,” said Dutch tourist Frederika Janssen.

“The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism,” as well as local life and culture “directly related to the natural resources that date from Antiquity,” said Constantin Koutsikopoulos, who heads the agency charged with managing the Ambracian Gulf.

Inside the gulf is a protected wetlands park, some 400 sq. km that is one of Europe’s Natura 2000 wildlife diversity regions.

One hundred and fifty dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and 300 species of aquatic birds including the rare Dalmatian pelican live in the lagoons and reed beds of the gulf.

Nestled between green hills, the Ambracian Gulf is fed by rivers descending from the mountains of the Epirus region of northwestern Greece.

Yovanos’ hometown guards the little strait that connects the gulf with the Ionian Sea.

Dolphin watching trips like these mean “I am realizing my dream of living the life of a fisherman among our natural riches,” said the 49-year-old from behind a greying beard.

For Greece as a whole, a gamble on reopening its borders to tourists as early as June appears to have paid off for now.

New coronavirus cases have appeared only slowly since then, with fewer than 6,000 cases and just over 200 deaths nationwide from the pandemic.

Although Preveza has opted for a slower, more family-oriented approach to travel compared to better-known Greek destinations, it hasn’t renounced Mediterranean holiday clichés altogether.

With the sector suffering a big hit from the coronavirus epidemic, Preveza city officials launched a promotional campaign, securing the title of safest place for a European beach holiday from website European Best Destinations.

“Monolithi beach, the main beach of Preveza, is ... the longest one in Europe... you won’t have to struggle to get a nice spot, fix your beach umbrella and spend relaxing days in the sun,” it wrote.

And new infrastructure in the shape of a marina has helped draw sailors away from packed ports on the islands.

“Preveza is the right place compared to Corfu which is a very nice island but very crowded,” said Nick Ray, a British businessman, from the deck of his yacht that had put into the town’s port.

With its fishing and fish farming, the Ambracian Gulf is already the region’s economic motor.

Sustainable, environment-focused tourism should give the authorities even more reason to deal with the threats to the gulf such as pollution, poaching and illegal fishing.

There’s even something for ancient history buffs in the ruins of Nicopolis, founded by Caesar Augustus in honor of his naval victory nearby in 31 BC, where some Roman mosaics are still preserved.