Deaf hacker rewrites implant-firmware so he can enjoy music again
At my last job one of my coworkers had just got a cochlear implant, and he said it was helping, but the doctors were tweaking it over a few weeks to be able to get it to work better for him. Obviously this is not a perfect science, and a lot of innovation is going on to improve hearing for people with cochlear implants.
The implant was embedded in my head; it wasn't some flawed hearing aid I could just send back. But it was a computer. Which meant that, at least in theory, its effectiveness was limited only by the ingenuity of software engineers. As researchers learn more about how the ear works, they continually revise cochlear implant software. Users await new releases with all the anticipation of Apple zealots lining up for the latest Mac OS.
About a year after I received the implant, I asked one implant engineer how much of the device's hardware capacity was being used. "Five percent, maybe." He shrugged. "Ten, tops."
I was determined to use that other 90 percent. I set out on a crusade to explore the edges of auditory science. For two years tugging on the sleeves of scientists and engineers around the country, offering myself as a guinea pig for their experiments. I wanted to hear Boléro again.
I wonder how implant firmware like this is going to evolve with respect to open source. Will hackers around the world tweak the code that runs these devices, releasing specialized hacks, allowing people to switch in different versions of the software? For that matter, will Michael Chorost release his code so that others can enjoy Boléro again?