Alphabet’s moonshot lab is working on a device to give people superhuman hearing

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Alphabet has attempted to take on some wild projects over the years, like a crop-sniffing plant buggy and fish-tracking cameras. But now, its X lab is working on a device that could give people superhuman hearing. As Insider first reported, the project, codenamed “Wolverine,” is exploring the future of hearing through sensor-packed hardware. The team, members of which spoke to Insider anonymously, say they’re currently trying to figure out how to isolate people’s voices in a crowded room or make it easier to focus on one person when overlapping conversations are happening around you.

They’ve already iterated on the device multiple times, including devices that covered the whole ear and others that protruded from above the ear. These iterations have been large because the team incorporates lots of microphones into the build, but newer versions are smaller, Insider says. Multiple people from hearing technology companies have joined the team, including talent from Starkey Hearing Technologies and Eargo.

Insider says the Wolverine team’s goals most closely align to that of Whisper, a company that came out of stealth last year. That team has managed to isolate sounds through a “sound separation engine,” which adapts to wearers’ environments. This suggests the lab’s goal isn’t to just create a device everyone would want, but rather an enhanced hearing aid.

Alphabet’s team isn’t focused on just one device or one use case, Insider says. The team is looking to build a successful business with multiple devices and models, so if they’re successful, you might start wearing Google-owned hearing aids.


So this is the same Alphabet that claims they have never used the microphones on our phones to listen to us and show us ads about things we never searched but just talked about 15 minutes ago?

I wish I could remember who ran the research, but a big study was undertaken and found that essentially, Google/Alphabet/Facebook/all the rest don’t actually use the microphones to track you – here’s a link to the BBC reporting on it.

Essentially, they don’t need to use the microphones, they know so much about you and can make recommendations so accurately that it just looks like they do

There’s also that we google for things so often without even thinking about it. Amazon always seems to show me things that I know I never looked on the site for.
There’s the power of advertising and cookies for you.

No amount of research on this will convince people who don’t know how any of it works. Thinking your phones listen to you is just way more simple to understand, more fun and is a conspiracy theory, which people just love.

I’ve tried countless times to explain to people how it works, but they are just skeptical each time and still think it’s the microphones.

This is pretty accurate, I can’t pretend to fully understand how these companies do it (and they likely don’t either, thanks to how machine learning works) but I do understand it enough to grasp the scope of what they can gather and use and the fact their algorithms know that that’s what you’re going to be thinking about, and know it so well it actually seems like they can hear you, is way, way more terrifying than if they actually were listening.

Ah, so hearing aids then? Very new age, every teenager I know of is talking about hearing aids, definitely not a market solely attributed to beige pieces of plastic used by the elderly or anything…

Jokes aside, nice to see we’re finally heading towards using technology to augment ourselves, been waiting years for this. AR, when it exists on normal eyeglasses or even contact lenses as opposed to our phone cameras, will be a big part of this, as will wireless earbuds.
Wear those two all the time and you’ve got permanent connection to all the information you could ever dream of, including upping your senses, can’t wait!

I just want new Pixel buds with ANC and 3d audio

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