During the last keynote at Facebook’s F8 conference, Regina Dugan, leader of the enigmatic “Building 8” frontier research group, explained that an internal team is exploring ways that humans could utilize their skin to hear. Don’t worry, this sounds just as crazy to me as it does to you, but whenever a company with a billion dollar R&D budget decides to prioritize something, it’s worth paying attention to.
Dugan showed off an old-school video of a deaf and blind man reproducing the conversation of another man nearby using only handheld sensors. Using this preliminary research as a jumping off point, Facebook wants to uncouple the brain from existing communication bottlenecks.
A team of Facebook engineers was also shown experimenting with hearing through skin using a system of actuators tuned to 16 frequency bands. Dugan went on to draw connections between the cochlea in the ear and our skin — transmitting frequencies through human tissue.
These technologies are clearly a long way away from prime time. Facebook’s interest in facilitating communication is bringing it deeper and deeper into the realm of frontier technology. Using autonomous drones to deliver internet connectivity and enabling people to hear through skin who otherwise may be locked out of communication both serve the same purpose.