In the technology field, there’s a concept known as exponential technology. This refers to the growth rate of the performance of a segment of device or a piece of technology. The idea is that it doubles in performance every two years. Of course, that doubling is what makes it exponential.
Another way to look at exponential technology is when it gets to a point where its bang for buck makes it accessible to a wider range of people. Think of computers and how far they’ve come. They used to cost millions of dollars and were only accessible to the military and government. Now, we all have one. Whether you’re reading this on a computer or a smartphone, it shows you a good example of exponential technology.
You might be wondering, how does exponential technology come into play in the audio industry?
Headphones and the way we listen to music have come far. For instance, with noise-canceling. These have gone from a feature with many flaws and one that was inaccessible to most, to one that can be found in several budget headphones.
Augmented reality and virtual reality are both future technologies that can use headphones. They come in large headsets that also have audio capability besides visual. With augmented reality, in particular, allows for the perception of objects, sounds, text, and other things. These are sensed in the real world as if they are there. The role of headphones in augmented reality play is not minimal.
With how smartphones are quickly ditching their headphone jacks, the rise of wireless headphones has also been sped up. While they have been around for quite some time, the smartphone industry served as a catalyst to improve their affordability, design, and performance.
As things move forward, we are likely to see the field of audio equipment change drastically. With innovations being developed consistently, we may see new means of enjoying music smoother than we can imagine.
New ways of listening to music
As technology continues to improve and develop, new means of enjoying music will pop up as a result. In fact, something known as bone conduction is one of the foremost among these.
Bone conduction is far from new development. It has been around for years – in fact, nearly a century. As time has gone on, it has become better and better, to the point where it can be used to enjoy music.
The way bone conduction works are quite intelligent. You need to have just a basic understanding of how human hearing works to get why it is such a smart innovation.
Sounds that reach our ears are just vibrations in the air. They travel through the air into our ear canals, where they meet the eardrum. They cause the membrane to vibrate. Using the tiny bones, or ossicles, in the ears, they vibrate fluid which causes the cells responsible for hearing to transfer that to the brain. This might be an oversimplification, but this is the essence of it.
Bone conduction means that all the parts of the ear before, and including, the ossicles can be skipped. Certain skull bones are vibrated directly and this is what is perceived as sound.
And one really fun fact is that Beethoven, the famous composer, had a serious hearing impairment. He was close to being completely deaf. That in itself is an interesting thing to know, but it gets better. It was said that he realized that he could have his cheek bone conduct sound by putting a metal rod between his teeth and against his piano.
Now, you might be wondering what makes this any better than regular earphones or headphones. What is the advantage? Well, to be honest, there are quite a few:
- Bone can transmit lower frequencies better than air can. This means that bone conduction can potentially produce better bass than conventional headphones.
- Bone conduction can help the hearing impaired to hear. It has been used in certain kinds of implants for years now. At the same time, it can help them enjoy music.
- Bone conduction headphones keep the ears free. This allows for better awareness of your surroundings. Even if your music is loud, nothing is stopping you from hearing what is going on around you.
- They are generally more comfortable. Ear canals are shaped differently per person. Sometimes in-ear earphones can hurt when they are too big and stay in for too long. When they are too small, they can fall out easily.
Bone conduction headphones aren’t some kind of sci-fi dream either. They exist already! There’s the brand Aftershokz, as well as Sentien on Indiegogo, to mention phew of them. Those with hearing impairments can use these to enjoy music and other audio just like anyone else.
Bone conduction isn’t only used to let the hearing-impaired enjoy music though. It allows them to hear the world around them in general. Cochlear hearing implants make use of bone conduction.
However, when it comes to advances in how we consume music, one stands out. That is Neuralink.
What is Neuralink and will it play music?
Elon Musk is considered to be one of the most prominent innovators in the modern technology industry. From Tesla to SpaceX to The Boring Company, Elon has always been pushing the envelope on what was considered possible with modern technology.
In what might be perhaps the most ambitious project of his, Elon Musk founded Neuralink in 2016. This company’s focus is the development of brain-machine interfaces. These are also known as brain-computer interfaces.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink is one of these brain-computer interfaces. Elon Musk plans to have it treat medical conditions that originate from the brain. This includes diseases like paralysis and mental illnesses like anxiety and addiction.
While it might be easy to think of this as an innovative way to listen to music, it can clearly do much more. Music isn’t even one of the primary goals of this implant. As a BCI, the potential is amazing, including allowing people to communicate telepathically!
But of course, if you’re reading it here, you are likely interested in the music side of things. It has such ambitious goals, so you might wonder whether Elon Musk is even looking in the music direction. The answer to that is ‘yes’, as was his exact word to a question asked on Twitter.
That is the limit of what has been said officially as regards Neuralink for music. It opens up so many possibilities (and questions) though. It will be implanted in the skull. Will it simply vibrate to conduct sound to your inner ear? Bone conduction already does this, so it is not a far-fetched approach. That would be an understandable means to achieve this
Will it somehow stream the music directly to the auditory centers of your brain? That would mean bypassing the ear entirely, which is very complex in theory. Does this mean music quality, unlike anything we’ve ever heard? Will it be able to interface directly with music streaming platforms like Spotify and Tidal?
Unfortunately, we can only speculate at this point. Until we get another official update from Elon or Neuralink, my guess is as good as any.
How does Neuralink work?
I know for a fact that some of you are interested in how Neuralink will work. This is great information to have. You’ll be able to make your guesses as to how it will achieve the things it does. It may soon become a major part of our daily lives after all.
First of all, Neuralink will need to be implanted in the brain surgically. Robotic surgical equipment will be involved, as precision is extremely important. The robot that performs the task was made by the company. It can only be done with this robot.
A small hollow will be drilled into the skull. This is where the Neuralink will sit. Coming out of it will be thousands of thin electrodes. These will penetrate the surface of the brain. This will allow it to pick up on the electrical impulses sent when there is an activity in the brain.
By decoding this activity appropriately, it will be able to determine which parts of your brain fire for certain tasks or movements. Paired with a computer or smartphone, it will be possible to control certain tasks with your mind.
That is just the starting point though. Elon Musk’s endgame is for these electrodes to be able to send signals back. It is these signals that are meant to make it medically helpful. These could be used to stimulate the release of deficient chemicals in the brain to manage mental disorders. Having the Neuralink send signals back will be essential to stream music straight to your brain.
Is Neuralink far away?
There is no definite launch date for the product yet. However, recent news makes it seem like this chip is closer to release than ever before.
In early April (2021), a Neuralink chip was implanted in the brain of a monkey. It was able to play some rounds of Pong with its brain. As simple as a game as Pong is, this was outstanding to witness. It is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential that Neuralink has.
For humans, it is beginning to look promising that human trials will begin in late 2021. However, it is likely to be years between human trials starting and when any one of us can get one in. Not only does the process need to be deemed to be entirely safe, but capable of complex tasks.
So, to answer the question, “is Neuralink far away?”, I’d say no. For technology this complex, having it within five years is not too far.
How will listening to music evolve?
Besides the prospects of Neuralink, there are other ways that our enjoyment of music might change. It could be in the style of our headphones and earbuds. It could also be in how we access our music.
Earbuds are everywhere. Absolutely no wires mean that these are easy to wear, with no hindrances. They are bound to get as small as they can while still fitting in the ear. Sound quality will also continue to improve, as well as battery life. Whether there is another physical hardware step after wireless earbuds is yet to be seen.
Over-the-ear headphones are still very popular, despite earbuds taking over. Apple released the Airpods Max recently, showing that it is not a dead segment. These have remained unchanged for the most part for decades.
The Human headphones might change that. These change the entire design that we are all used to. There are no wires and there is no headband. These are over-the-ear headphones that cover each ear, with nothing else. This is one design choice that I think might become big.
Right now, our streaming services are limited to our phones and our computers. What if we could get rid of the middleman and put them straight into the headphones? That’s what the Debussy Prelude is meant to help achieve. This means you can listen to music anywhere, without a phone or laptop. It’ll stream the music directly thanks to built-in LTE.
Although this isn’t strictly an audio experience, virtual and augmented reality may make virtual concerts a thing. As the technology improves, these can become more and more immersive.
And of course, there is the potential that technology like Neuralink can bring. This will most likely allow for the streaming of music directly in your head. It is more likely to find a way to turn audio into brain signals, though bone conduction is a possibility.
With a brain-machine interface like Neuralink, the possibilities are interesting. For instance, it could be able to read your mood and use that to play you a tailored playlist. It might be able to read your visual information and determine where you are. That means it could play a song for you based on your location.
The possibilities are immense. When you think about it, people enjoying music 50 years ago wouldn’t have believed you if you told them what to expect. What is coming ahead might be equally mind-blowing.
How else can BCIs impact our daily lives?
The music aspect of things is likely to excite a lot of us audiophiles. However, there is way too much going on with BCIs for us to isolate the other benefits they have. They may entirely change how we interact with our world.
Here are some of the aspects of life that these brain-computer interfaces can benefit:
- The way we interact with our devices. When chips like Neuralink become commonplace, one of the simplest yet biggest ways it will change things is how we use our smartphones and PCs. We will be able to control the devices, essentially with our minds. That means we no longer need to touch a screen when we can select what we want or move a cursor from our brains. Not only will this make using our devices easier, but will make it possible for those with disabilities.
And this will have its impact on music too. Do you want to pause or play a song? There’s no need to reach out for your phone. Skipping to the next track or seeking through the one you’re currently listening to will be no problem. If they want to be ambitious, I think that you might even be able to have it pause music automatically when someone calls your name. That would be innovative. The possibilities are many.
- They can do the same jobs as neural prostheses. These are implants that can fix serious nerve damage, such as that acquired after a stroke. In theory, a BCI could be programmed to manually activate neurons that have been affected by a stroke to cause movement or certain functions.
- They may also double as cochlear implants. If they can stream music directly to the brain, they’d have a lot of potentials to restore hearing.
- It may allow for direct chatting from one person to another. This is essentially telepathy and is one of the most futuristic things that Neuralink may be able to do.
- By manually stimulating the release of certain neurotransmitters, it should be able to treat certain medical conditions. This might include Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, and more.
Will Neuralink change the world of music forever?
Even with the test on the monkey, Neuralink is still not guaranteed to reach consumers. Even if it undergoes human trials, it will need to be FDA-approved. And then, if that happens, it needs to have enough benefit for anyone to consider paying for it. After all, all the possibilities above are speculation for now.
If it does manage to do those though, it will change our worlds forever. And by being able to stream music directly to our brains, music will never be the same.