Here One pioneers augmented audio — more to come.

I received one of the first pair of Here One wireless earbuds that not only play music but have adjustable controls to cancel out or alternatively to boost background noise. Sometimes you want to tune out and sometimes you want to tune in. I think we’ll see more innovation in the “augmented audio” space over the next few years and the implications will shake society.

Augmented Audio is related to Augmented Reality — the idea of a virtual “overlay” over the real world. We’ve all seen it before in movies for years but it was probably popularized most widely and simply with the recent Pokemon Go app that lets you catch Pokemon in the real world. When most people talk about augmenting reality they are thinking about something visual, but augmenting what we hear is possibly just as powerful and interesting.

As soon as I heard about the Here One last April I signed up to be one of the first pre-orders. I back many projects on Kickstarter and this one was right up my alley. I wasn’t excited about wearing something in my ears all of the time, but I was very excited about the idea of having hearing as a superpower.

Right now the Here One implementation is pretty simple. While they have a few different configuration options, the main feature is a slider that lets go you switch between noise cancellation (don’t let me hear any background noise), a neutral passthrough state (I can hear my music but I can also hear someone talking to me), and noise amplification (similar to a hearing aid).

The basic design of the hardware and software is solid. The earbuds aren’t too big or too heavy and fit nicely. They come in a traveling case that is also a charger with it’s own internal battery, similar to the Apple Airpods and Snapchat Spectacles. The app is simple and easy to use.

They have a lot of different sound profiles for different environments. A city street, a restaurant, an airplane, etc. They even distinguish between the SF Subway and the NYC Subway. One profile focuses on speakers located in front of you and another focuses on speakers located behind you.

My complaints? If they don’t sit perfectly in the charger they don’t charge. I like having them tethered together because I’m worried about losing one of them. When I put Here One in airplane mode and had music playing in the background of the room but no music through Here One, what I heard was just some really weird static pulses. Takeaway — nothing that makes them unusable and overall very impressive for a first version.

None of these seem that useful or effective to me right now, but I can imagine that in 5–10 years with more advanced hardware and software we’ll be able to simultaneously listen to all of the conversations in a busy restaurant at the same time, focusing our attention on the one of most interest.

Other forms of augmented audio will include real-time analysis of the audio you are hearing. Alert me if I hear a gunshot or a child crying for help. Warn me if the person I’m talking to is lying and fact check each of their statements as they say them. When I meet someone, whisper in my ear the person’s name, spouse, and the last time I saw them.

Fans of the Enders Game series by Orson Scott Card may be thinking of Ender’s Jane, an artificial intelligence (AI) that he communicated to through an earpiece he wore all the time. More recently, there was the AI personal assistant Samantha (voice of Scarlett Johansson) in the Spike Jonze movie Her who Joaquin Phoenix’s character fell in love with.

Within a few years, these devices will have the battery life and storage capacity to record everything they heard and save it, too — which has dramatic implications for security, privacy and memory.

Will I wear the Here One’s every day? Definitely not. I’m going to stick with my Beats X earbuds for now, but I’m watching them closely for what features come next.

What would it take for you to wear a device that listened to everything around you all time and whispered in your ear?

Here One pioneers augmented audio — more to come. was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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