Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Roughly a year and a half ago, Regina Dugan, a former director for the US government’s Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, took the stage at Facebook’s F8 developer conference. There, she told the audience that Facebook was working on brain-computer interfaces that might one day let you type…
Roughly a year and a half ago, Regina Dugan, a former director for the US government’s Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, took the stage at Facebook’s F8 developer conference. There, she told the audience that Facebook was working on brain-computer interfaces that might one day let you type with your thoughts.
It was a bold proclamation, and it helped at the time paint a picture of Facebook as a risk-taking, moonshot-hunting Silicon Valley juggernaut in the mold of Google and its X lab. Now, 18 months later, some of those projects are still reportedly in the works, but the team responsible for them no longer go by the DARPA-inspired name Building 8. And Dugan, who had joined Facebook from her time running a similar skunkworks group called ATAP that was pursuing an ill-fated modular smartphone project for Google, is now gone, having left Facebook more than a year ago.
According to a report today fromBusiness Insider,Building 8 has been disbanded, with its projects redistributed to new teams within the company’s augmented and virtual reality division. According to Andew “Boz” Bozworth, the executive in charge of AR and VR at Facebook, it’s misleading to characterize Building 8 as having been “killed,” asBusiness Insiderput it:
This is misleading. We renamed the Building 8 team Portal after that device launch. The research we initially started in Building 8 continues in our Facebook Reality Labs research group.
— Boz (@boztank) December 14, 2018
Instead, the two most high-profile projects from the division — the brain-computer interface project and an AI- and AR-infused video chat device — have been split up between two divisions. (Business Insiderreported as much, but Facebook seems to take issue with the headline.) That video chat device became Facebook Portal, which replaced Building 8 when the device launched in October, as reported byYahooat the time. The Portal group, according to Facebook, will be responsible for future hardware projects that involve new, cutting-edge camera technology, as well as AR and VR.
Meanwhile, the brain-computer interface project is now operating out of Facebook Reality Labs, a division created back in May when Facebook underwent a substantial reorganization. Reality Labs is run by Michael Abrash, an early video game pioneer and technologist who came to Facebook by way of Oculus and holds the title of chief scientist.
It’s still possible Facebook could one day develop a brain-computer interface or, as Dugan promised alongside that announcement at F8, a way to hear using your skin. For now, however, it seems like the more realistic outcome is that the Portal group takes up the responsibility of shipping real products, while Oculus, Facebook Reality Labs, and the broader AR/VR division at the company continue to think hard about how to invent the future of computing.