In George Orwell’s 1984, the oppressive rulers of Oceania use devices called telescreens to closely monitor and repress citizens. Now Facebook looks set to follow in the Party’s footsteps by putting its own firm’s microphones and cameras into people’s homes. The social network is planning to release its first ever piece of consumer hardware which will be called Portal and cost a whopping $499 (£368), a website called Cheddar has claimed. The device will feature a 15inch screen, a wide-angle camera with facial recognition and microphones to allow voice control. It’s expected to use facial recognition to allow people to log into their accounts without having to type in passwords and will be dedicated to video chat. The gadget has been designed by a shadowy Facebook department called Building 8 that’s also working on mind-reading technology.
‘Rather than position the device as a smart assistant akin to Amazon’s Echo speakers, Facebook intends to pitch Portal as a way for families and friends to stay connected through video chatting and other social features,’ the website wrote. ‘Facebook plans a formal product introduction in early May at its annual developer conference and hopes to ship the device in the second half of 2018.’ Apart from the potentially grave privacy implications of letting Facebook’s cameras and microphones into your home, there’s another clear fault with the gadget: it costs almost as much as an iPhone or iPad but probably does a lot less. Although Facebook has not officially commented, Andrew Bosworth, the company’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, wrote on Twitter: ‘Can’t comment on speculation but can confirm it’s going to be an exciting year for AR/VR’.
Building 8 is a top secret Facebook division which used to be headed up by Regina E. Dugan, former boss of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is dedicated to military research. Last year, Facebook admitted its own research wing was working on technology which can read people’s minds at 100 words per minute. Will Big Zucker end up watching us all?