Science-fiction writers have often been eerily prescient in their depictions of the future. Atomic submarines, trips to the moon, communication satellites in geosynchronous orbit, many and varied are the wonders of technology that first appeared in the pages of someone’s sci-fi story.
However, not all the predictions are happy ones. Especially when it comes to advertising technology, the future often appears to be a grim place. In the classic novel The Space Merchants, we are given a view of a world where advertising runs amok. Ads are everywhere, and advertising agencies control the lives of the citizens.
In the film “The Minority Report”, slick and updated versions of futuristic billboards incorporate retina-scanning technology, so they can display ads based on your individual purchase history.
And it’s not science fiction to realize that advertisers are more and more aggressively utilizing every available space, every possible delivery medium, as I’ve recently mentioned here.
So it should come as no surprise that some enterprising company has embraced the future, and developed a technology that lets them beam advertising directly into your head.
No, I’m not making this up. I wish I was.
Right now, folks walking down Prince Street in SoHo are liable to suddenly start hearing an ad for A&E’s series Paranormal, inside their heads. This is thanks to a technology that permits an advertiser to transmit an “audio spotlight” from a distant speaker so that the sound is heard within your cranium.
So, anyone that walks through the “spotlight” has to hear the ad.
Does this frighten anyone else?
Thanks to my favorite dystopian, Warren Ellis, for the link
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Frankly this freaked me out - a lot.
So I did a little reading on it, so far what I’ve found is that and according to their site, they are essentially using ultrasound to create sound waves that are only audible at a narrow, targeted space, rather than the loudspeaker approach which is audible in nearly every direction and at every interval from the source.
The key word however, is “audible” - meaning, still requires your ears, like any other sound wave.
So, its still a set of sound waves that your ears pick up (rather than your skull, which is what it at first seems like), which means its really no different than any other ad that you hear, except that it is only audible within a few feet of “target” space. In other words, holosound didn’t just cure deafness - they just figured out how to point sound waves in a more specific direction.
OK. I can breathe again.
Or did I miss something?
Wow uh, I think I need an editor.
Do you really find this reassuring? Let’s consider an analogous system utilizing vision. Let’s say you’re walking down the sidewalk and suddenly you see the Verizon guy standing in front of you, smiling. No one else appears to see him. He’s smiling at you, as people walk through him.
They are stressing that this allows people to broadcast sound without being annoying. If you run that through the “deweaseler”, that translates to “you can now harass people with sound in areas where, if you put a conventional loudspeaker up, they would castrate you”.
I don’t want to be assaulted by ads coming out of thin air, thank you very much. I can choose not to look at a billboard, I can’t choose to shut my ears. And I shouldn’t have to.
I’m curious what this would sound like if I was already hearing something, like if I was wearing headphones and listening to my music player while standing right next to a huge downtown mall waiting for the train…
I completely see your point, although I think the analogy of visual ads is actually kind of cool rather than scary, considering that what you’re essentially talking about is holographic ads, which my inner geek finds conceptually kinda’ cool. But I digress.
I think a better analogy is a television - if you could, wouldn’t it be better if you could “point” the sound of your TV exclusively and exactly at your couch or chair, and have it literally silent everywhere else outside those viewing (and hearing) zones? For example, right in front of the TV, so our kids couldn’t hear the TV if they sit too close? Essentially you would have the effect of headphones without requiring the headgear, using the same thin air that we already use with our ears. Seems like a good idea to me.
On audio ads, I think the biggest problem with traditional audio ads (which are already everywhere in cities - think of malls, or storefronts blasting music on the street, or an ice cream truck for that matter) is that each broadcasting ad has to be incredibly loud in all directions to make it to the ears of people within their huge destination zone. This technology on the other hand seems to eliminate the bleed-over of “incredibly loud in all directions,” effectively keeping areas outside the target zone quieter. Like apartments in a neighborhood that don’t want to hear the music 24hrs a day blasting from the club across the street - with this, the noise is confined to only the 5×10 space in front of the club, and inside the club, making it completely, literally inaudible outside that small space.
The biggest difference to me is now the speaker can be much further away and much quieter in the space between to reach its target audience.
In fact, think of the implications for things like concerts, where currently (in general) the closer you are to the speaker the better the sound is. With this, in theory, you could broadcast the same quality to all distances in the venue since you can control the destination of the sound waves, without having to use incredibly high levels audible volume at the speaker to reach all parts of the destination.
My general feeling is the world is too loud already because of outdated loudspeaker (loud everywhere) technology - I think, _think_, that I will take an audio ad that I can only hear within a few feet of the target zone over the Abercrombie and Fitch approach to advertising, which is to blast dangerously loud noise and music everywhere, all the time, and which is becoming increasingly prevalent in public spaces. In fact, my prognostication is that soon (meaning in a few years) we’ll all be wearing “selective” ear protection that filters out ambient noise, just like we wear sunglasses. It will become casual to put on our hearing protection when we go out, just like it is to protect our eyes.
At least according to this article at Gawker:
They DO use the cranium as a resonant surface, and you DO hear the sound “inside your head”. Now you, too can experience what it’s like to be a schizophrenic.
I don’t doubt that this is wonderful technology, and that there may be some fine applications for it. But I don’t want people putting noise, ANY NOISE, inside my head to sell a product.
I’m just funny that way.
If that is true, then I’ll be the first in line to buy that new tin foil hat.
On the other hand, if the disclosure on their site is correct, we’re still ok.
“the ultrasound, which contains frequencies far outside our range of hearing, is completely inaudible. But as the ultrasonic beam travels through the air, the inherent properties of the air cause the ultrasound to distort (change shape) in a predictable way. This distortion gives rise to frequency components in the audible bandwidth, which can be accurately predicted, and therefore precisely controlled. By generating the correct ultrasonic signal, we can create, within the air itself, essentially any sound desired.”
In the “audible bandwidth” means hearing. Which can be kind of schizophrenic if you don’t know where the sound is coming from. . .
But, I’m shaping my foil now just in case.
Just read the article, and I can see how the conclusion is drawn. but the article is wrong - read this comment from one of the readers (which says it way better than me):
“It’s a shame that the author has completely misconstrued the technology and that noone has taken the time to research it nor explain it. The speaker generates a narrow beam of ultrasound frequencies, not unlike a light beam, that are inaudible by themselves but can be heard when they interact with /*air*/, which converts the high frequencies to lower frequencies humans can hear.
ULTRASONIC sound actually /*reflects*/ off of any solid surface, not make it resonate. So this has nothing to do with your skull, but rather normal safe sound which is transmitted on a carrier frequency which has both directionality and locality.
Using normal speakers, to achieve the same effect, you’d keep the neighborhood up all night. Instead, even the tenant just below the units hears absolutely nothing. And once you cross Mulberry walking westbound, you hear nothing. And on the south side of Prince, you hear nothing.
I’m equally disappointed to see all the people in this virtual blogland jump to crazy alarmist conclusions before actually going to visit the location and judge for themselves. “
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