Hearables are in-ear gadgets for listening to music, playing games or medical monitoring. Now, a scientist at Stanford University is discussing hearables that can communicate with the neural signals passing through our ears in order to monitor and interact with our brains.
Poppy Crum, a chief scientist at Dolby Laboratories and an adjunct professor at Stanford University, has been working toward making hearables a technology that is truly empathetic. “The ear is like a biological equivalent of a USB port. It is unparalleled not only as a point for “writing” to the brain, as happens when our earbuds transmit the sounds of our favorite music, but also for “reading” from the brain. Soon, wearable devices that tuck into our ears—I call them hearables—will monitor our biological signals to reveal when we are emotionally stressed and when our brains are being overtaxed,” she says.
Crum envisions 4 scenarios where future generations of hearables will make our lives better, reports IEEE Spectrum.
- You’re following a basketball game on TV while cooking, but you’re having trouble following the action. Your hearables, in this case, will know where the problem is. It will figure out exactly where you’re trying to direct your attention by pairing the stress increase with variations in the electrical signals created in your ear as you move your eyes.
- You’re at a restaurant, but the loud music I making it difficult to hold conversations. In this case, your hearables will track your brain waves, determine when you are struggling to hear, and then appropriately adjust the signal-to-noise ratio and directionality of their built-in mics to make it easier for you to understand what people nearby are saying.
- You’re driving your car with your family in it. Your noisy kids are making it difficult for you to pay attention to the directions in your smartphone. Your hearables will increase the smartphone volume while also instructing the car to adjust seat temperature and airflow – and perhaps start softly playing your favorite music. They even understand your child’s “I need to go potty” as a bathroom request, analyze it to determine its urgency, and decide whether the navigation app should immediately search for the closest rest stop, or look for one near a restaurant—because they also heard your other daughter say she’s hungry.
- You’ve been wearing a hearable for a few years now. Recently, the device has been detecting specific changes in the spectral quality and patterns of sounds when you speak. After tracking this trend for several months, your hearable suggest that you schedule an appointment with your physician because these changes can correlate with heart disease.
“The benefits of hearables will far outweigh the negatives—and that’s a strong motivation for doing the work needed to sort out the issues of privacy and security. When we do, hearables will constantly and silently assess and anticipate our needs and state of mind while helping us cope with the world around us. They will be our true life partners,” Crum says.