Facebook Inc. said late Monday it agreed to buy a startup that would let people control computers with their brains – a long-held ambition by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg.
The proposed acquisition of CTRL-Labs, a 4-year-old company developing software and a bracelet that measures neuron activity in a subject’s arm, is believed to be between $500 million and $1 billion, according to published reports.
declined to comment on the price of the acquisition.
“Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th century inventions in a 21st century world,” Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, vice president of AR/VR at Facebook, said in a Facebook post announcing the news. “This is how our interactions in VR and AR can one day look. It can change the way we connect.”
The acquisition is sure to gain the attention of Congress, especially after members met last week with Zuckerberg to share their concerns over Facebook’s marketing muscle and data-privacy practices.
The social-networking giant has been working on a “direct brain interface” for several years. A creation of its secretive Building 8 division, it could take tech-enhanced communication to the next level — literally inside someone’s thought process. One goal of the project, described to this reporter at the F8 developer’s conference in San Jose, Calif., in 2017, included technology that would let people type 100 words per minute with their brain. “What if you could type directly from your brain… with the speed and flexibility of voice and the privacy of text?” then-Building 8 head Regina Dugan said in an interview.
New York-based CTRL-Labs will become part of the Facebook Reality Labs division, which is designing a hands-free pair of augmented reality glasses. The company has raised tens of millions of dollars, including $28 million from Alphabet Inc.’s
GV and Amazon.com Inc.’s
Alexa Fund earlier this year.
“Here’s how it’ll work: You have neurons in your spinal cord that send electrical signals to your hand muscles telling them to move in specific ways such as to click a mouse or press a button,” Bosworth wrote. “The wristband will decode those signals and translate them into a digital signal your device can understand, empowering you with control over your digital life. It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to.”
Facebook’s futuristic endeavor is one of several tech projects to explore the human brain. Tesla Inc.
CEO Elon Musk, for example, founded Neuralink Corp., a privately-held Silicon Valley company that would merge computers with brains to keep up with artificial intelligence.
The timing of Facebook’s endeavor, which sent chills throughout the F8 crowd two years ago because of its possible ramifications, is likely to evoke the same reaction from federal and state lawmakers as well as privacy advocates who already are concerned about the company’s economic and cultural influence as it collects mountains of data from billions of its faithful users.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Facebook’s business practices, along with those of Amazon. The Justice Department is doing the same with Apple Inc.
and Google. All four companies have shown a keen interest in the financial potential of mixed reality and artificial intelligence.