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Facebook's latest purchase is a $1B bid to let us control social media and VR with our minds

The company just spent a reported $1 billion on CTRL-Labs, a neural tech startup

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Facebook wants us to interact with our smartphones and social networks with the power of our minds, and just acquired a company to make that a reality.

The social network announced this week it has bought CTRL-Labs, in a bid to take the electrical signals generated by neurons in our spinal cords, then use these to do something on Facebook, like share a photo with a friend.

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CTRL-Labs' technology uses a wristband which reads the neural activity in a wearer's arm. This is then used to work out what the person is thinking about, even without movement, then turn this into movement on a digital screen.

Facebook wants to take these signals and link them to its social network and other services. The technology could also be used in future augmented and virtual reality projects.

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Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented reality and virtual reality at Facebook, posted on the social network: "We spend a lot of time trying to get our technology to do what we want rather than enjoying the people around us. We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology."

Speaking of the company's acquisition of CTRL-Labs, which is reported to have cost around $1 billion, Bosworth said: "The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement...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. The wristband will decode those signals and translate them into a digital signal your device can understand."

Bosworth added: "It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to. Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th century inventions in a 21st century world. This is how our interactions in VR and AR can one day look."

This isn't the first time Facebook has investigated brain-computer interfaces. Back in 2017, the company announced it was working on such a technology, using optical imaging to scan your brain and turn your internal monologue into text. The goal, Facebook said at the time, was to allow people to type at 100 words per minute by thinking the words instead of tapping them into a smartphone.

Facebook has not said what it paid for CTRL-Labs, but Bloomberg claims the figure is as much as $1 billion, making this acquisition Facebook's largest since the $2 billion it paid for Oculus VR in 2014. CTRL-Labs was founded in 2015 by Thomas Reardon, a neuroscientist and creator of Internet Explorer, and fellow neuroscientist Patrick Kaifosh. Since 2015 the company has raised $67 million in venture capital.

It was reported earlier this month that Facebook is working on a couple of augmented reality smart glasses, in partnership with Ray-Ban owner Luxottica. The wristband technology could act as a way for wearers to interact with the user interface on their smart glasses with thought alone.

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