Deaf hacker rewrites implant-firmware so he can enjoy music again

nym | 11:15 AM
Michael Chorost, a deaf hacker and author of "Rebuilt", decided to hack the firmware on his cochlear implant so that it would perform better, so that music would be more enjoyable again through the 16 electrodes connected to his auditory nerves.

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?

[ Link and title via boing boing ]


Amazing! What about realtime voice translation? I mean I know that's probably far outside the computing spec of these devices, however, it seems with a few additions it should be possible.. like piping in the audio from another device (pocketpc?) so that it can be processed. I imagine it would be like an EyeTap, but audio instead of video. I'm not deaf, not in the least, BUT I have always been interested in having some sort of "line-in" type device for my ears in a sense where I could pipe sound directly in, no headphones, no quality loss, no background noise. Just pure sound. I'm sure we're still years away, and it's all just a pipe dream now, but that's my two cents ;)

BTW: love the site!!

Posted by: Eric Agan at January 5, 2006 12:22 PM
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