Informed Dreaming for a Better Hearing Tomorrow

As we look back at 2015, it’s become apparent that this has been a year of innovative advances in wearable technology. Wearables and hearables have taken over as must-have-gadgets, working with each other to provide health and lifestyle benefits such as better hearing, body weight and exercise data, heart rate and more. But for us at Starkey, we know that as we move into 2016 it’s going to be all about the future of hearables. Our own Simon Carlile takes us on an inside look at what our future looks like from the research perspective through a six-part blog series.

Part of my day job is to dream – not to daydream but to dream in a disciplined and focused way! I call this informed dreaming, and I believe it is essential for some of the most important parts of my job — because what I do is invent the future. Not the whole future – just a little slice; but this is a very important slice of the future. As Senior Director of Research at Starkey Hearing Technologies, envisioning the future is an essential part of designing the best hearable technology for tomorrow.

Hearing aids, or hearables as we now call them, have undergone amazing changes over the last couple of decades. The move from analog to digital ushered in a new age of incredible technologies such as multiband compression, feedback cancellation, noise reduction, speech enhancement, environment classification and a host of other signal processing technologies that have significantly improved listening capability and clarity.

Wireless and Bluetooth® were the next major stepping stones, allowing for direct communication and control via smartphones and smartwatches, the development of enhanced directional technologies, binaural linking and preservation of spatial cues and new forms of noise reduction that further isolated speech from noise. In Z Series™, our 900sync technology enabled us to create hearing aids that can be controlled with SurfLink® remote products to change programs, adjust for music and answer calls. In Halo™, we saw wireless technology enable the creation of customized settings, geo-targeted memories for specific locations, offer invisible control capabilities and even provide entertainment elements such as hands-free streaming of music, media and calls that transformed “old-age” hearing aids into desirable “new-age” hearables. And the changes these technologies have offered aren’t done yet.  

But what’s the next big step? The answer is good research; research that takes the solutions to the next level and looks not to bettering the immediate capabilities of current platforms and technologies, but even further ahead. Ten or even five years out we have to imagine the capabilities of the futuristic technological environments in which our new devices will land. And this is where informed dreaming comes in. Predicting the future is a perilous business but an essential component to the applied research that we do at Starkey.

So what might this future world look like? The Greek philosopher Heraclitus (also known as “The Obscure” or the “weeping philosopher”) wrote that the only constant was change – quoted by Plato as saying that “you could not step twice into the same river.” Heraclitus could have never imagined how fast that river could flow – a torrent that sweeps all before it and makes way for something fresh and new. Today, the landscape, the very course of the river changes as often as we blink.

What we do in research now is based on the science and research of millions of scientists around the world. One could estimate the size of today’s scientific knowledge as the number of peer reviewed articles, which according to the influential scientific journal Nature last year totalled 1.8 million peer reviewed articles published cross 28,000 scientific journals. More to the point, this number is increasing with a compound growth rate of 9 percent each year – this means that the scientific knowledge is nearly doubling every 9 years! It shouldn’t surprise us then that in 10 years, we might find ourselves like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: not in Kansas and utterly lost in unfamiliar surroundings.

It is critical that we understand the possibilities that the raging river of scientific discovery can provide to enable innovation through scientific communication.

I think of the future as the Internet of Things – a near future state, where not only are things in the world connected and communicating, but where we also have a vast range of sensors and data gathering devices that provide a rich and detailed real-time picture of the world.

My challenge and the challenge of my team, is to understand how we leverage these technologies and this tumultuous torrent of scientific discovery to improve the lives of millions. Our task is to place ourselves in Oz and find the hearable equivalent of the ruby red slippers — to find the next stepping stones towards not only the best hearing but the best living.


By Simon Carlile, Ph.D.