The Technium

Always-On Spatial Audio

I’m gonna bet that a large part of AR, XR, Mirrorworld and spatial computing, will be spatial audio. Not just stereo sound, not just 3d surround sound, but spatial sound. That means virtual sound that is very specific in its locations, like real sound is. If a cricket is cricketing, it is perceived as being in a very exact spot, which we hear, and our brain translates, as RIGHT THERE. When we turn our head, the sound remains where it is. Like in movies, spatial audio will be at least 50% of the immersive experience. Right now I am imagining that our smart glasses will have some sort of sound component that will direct spatial sound into our ears. Perhaps they will be speakers or bone conducting vibrators on the glasses stems.

It will not only be spatial sound, it will be always-on sound. That is important. Always-on is essential. A couple of things can come from that.

•  We can have real time language translation whispering into our ears. This will be a boon for the developing world and for travellers. I believe real time translation will accelerate the global economy by several orders because it allows so many with skills other than English to join the global economy remotely.

•  We can have Jeeves, or the AI in Her, or  a better Alexa whispering into our ears as we work and go about our day. I don’t think we’ll rely on an audio-only interface, but I do bet that audio will be a huge part of the interface. I think today’s users of the Airpods are getting an early glimpse of always on audio power.

• Life will have a soundtrack. Yes, people will listen to their playlists, plural, perhaps even having one for different functions or moods. The system can play one set when you are walking to work, another when you cook, and another when it detects you are down. But I think the real innovation will be the ability for AIs and sensors to create new music/ambient sounds to match your life, almost as if you had some composer score a soundtrack for your day, each day. When you saw something cool, it would detect your emotion and ramp up the violins, or whatever you favor.

• There might be a need to cultivate a new skill of multi-channel listening, somewhat the way TV anchors can have a conversation with people even as their producer is chatting to them in their ear.

• Just as ordinary lives may get a soundtrack it is also possible to imagine getting a narration to your life. You could choose to hire an agent to be always explaining things to you, telling you what just happened, reminding you about what did happen, or what you thought before. Instead of our own “voice inside our head” this would be a different “voice in our ear” that might be able to displace the neurotic version in our head. It could be therapy or self-improvement.

• We would need to evolve a social etiquette for conversing — or not —with said voice in your ear.

There must be many more unexpected consequences of having always-on, spatial audio.


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