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Stick It In Your Ear
Jamais Cascio, 29 Jul 05

goldfish.jpgIf you wear a hearing aid, are you a cyborg?

How about if you wear hearing augmentation gear, even though your hearing is otherwise fine?

The UK design group human beans has come up with three prototype hearing augmentation devices (Flash interface) intended not simply for the hearing impaired, but also for the hearing able. Mute can sample and silence selected noises, from screaming infants to road work to "twittering colleagues." The .scp format allows an in-ear player to play music or other "soundscapes" altered to match the pattern of other noises around you. But best of all is the Goldfish:

Ever missed something you wanted to hear? - a name, an announcement at the station, a vital fact in a meeting?

Pop a goldfish in your ear and with one discreet tap you can reply what has just been said. In-ear short term memory.

The Goldfish ear plug keeps a constant 10 second buffer, allowing for immediate playback of what has been recorded. If this concept sounds familiar, it should -- the notion of a "tivo for one's life" is a big part of the Participatory Panopticon. In addition, these devices demonstrate the "curb cut" effect, where augmentations initially meant for the disabled come to provide benefits for the able-bodied, as well.

They're also spectacularly good examples of industrial design -- and there's a reason for that.

These three designs are part of the Hearware exhibit at the V&A Museum in London. Hearware was organized by the UK's Royal National Institute for the Deaf and the design magazine Blueprint. In a bit of anticipatory curation, they asked 20 British designers to redesign hearing enhancement and assistance technologies. The results are now on display, with the exhibit running through March of 2006. The designs range from the fanciful to the ohmanIwantthatnow, and many are aimed not just at the hearing-impaired, but at the hearing-able.

Although most of the designs exist solely as computer files and props, some -- including the Goldfish -- have actually been built as prototypes. The goal of Hearware was not to imagine what might happen a decade down the road, but to imagine what the world would look like if we started to think of hearing as a sense to be augmented in the way we augment vision with sunglasses, binoculars, colored contact lenses and the like.

The London Times quotes RNID's Neil Thomas:

“Years ago glasses were regarded as something you got on NHS prescription and there was very little choice. They were not cool or sexy. Now, glasses have become a fashion item and a style statement and many people wear them even if they have perfect vision.

“In contrast, the design of hearing aids has changed little over the years and they still have very negative connotations with disability.

“We are trying to show the massive potential for industry to create stylish and desirable hearing products which, if they were available on the high street, millions of people would want to use,” Mr Thomas said.

Blueprint published a detailed exploration of what the reconceptualization of hearing augmentation might mean (PDF); human beans is hosting the article on their site. They are also providing a copy of the Hearware illustration (PDF) for the article, with examples of the various augmentation devices from the contributors.

(Via core77)

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Woohoo! Douglas Adams was on the money.

Posted by: Rohit Gupta on 29 Jul 05


i'm currently looking for a doctor willing to "install" a BAHA (or Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) for me, even though i don't need one (my hearing is fine). It works through resonance of the bone behind one of your ears, and comes with a sound processor.

I don't want the sound processor (i'd like to build my own bluetooth bone mic/speaker combination), but finding a doctor that's willing to install the screw into my skull has proven itself to be difficult.

If anyone can help me find one who would, I'd greatly appreciate it... :D

Posted by: phraust on 30 Jul 05


What about upgrades or hardware failures? Are you going to have to hunt around for a surgeon to open you up again? It seems better to leave the tech outside the body for now and just swap it out when it goes obsolete or breaks.

DLRs (Digital Life Recorders) are what I'm waiting for. The camera and mic would be some sort of patch on your coat or vest, a hard drive would sit in your pocket for storage and you'd put on a small, light pair of "magic glasses" with a little earplug for I/O and--boom--short term memory augmentation. Hack some good pattern-matching and search and then you've got medium term memory augmentation.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 30 Jul 05

actually, the only thing that gets implanted with the BAHA system is a 3mm titanium screw, and only a few millimeters deep. that acts as a resonating post, which the driver clips onto. once it's in, thats all thats needed. i should be able to pick up sound through the post, as well as deliver it.

things will have to get alot better before i consider putting anything programmable into my cranium...

Posted by: phraust on 31 Jul 05

I hate to be really picky (but I will be anyway): "RNID" actually stands for "Royal National Institute for Deaf people". It's a subtle difference, admittedly, but quite an interesting one.

Posted by: Frank Shearar on 31 Jul 05

My supervisor has started wearing his bluetooth phone headset all the time. I can't help thinking "cyborg" when I look at him. The problem is, I never know when he is on the phone and when he's talking to me!

Posted by: Ethan on 10 Aug 05



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