S1E2 - The Voice Inside Your Head - Holosonic Directional Audio

I’m so excited to share another interesting yet creepy tech that’s changing not only the way that we behave, but also our perceptions on what we believe is real.

This week we are going to do a deep dive into directional audio spotlighting technology. We are going to discuss what this tech is, how its being used and how it may affect us moving forward.

Now considering that there are a few different companies who are developing this technology, I will just be focusing on the biggest players in the audio industry.  

I’m guessing that most of you haven’t heard about this yet but I’m sure if you’re here, then you must be intrigued to find out.

So, let’s begin with the most recent company making waves in the news.

Holosonic Research Labs, Inc.

Holosonic is a company founded by Dr. F. Joseph Pompei a graduate of the Massachusetts institute of technology.  

Most recently Holosonics demonstrated their technology at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show but the company has been around since the early 2000’s and they offer a range of different audio spotlight products.  

The company manufactures and installs highly direction audio spotlight speaker systems. If you’ve had a chance to look up their YouTube videos showing quick demonstrations of their systems, you may have been a bit confused. How do their speakers differ from regular speakers?

Well Holosonics speakers use ultrasound technology to create sound at very narrow beams like a light beam typically around 5 degrees. The sounds emitted by these speakers are very targeted and can be described as 3D in someway which makes the messages sound like they are coming from inside your own mind.

I first heard about Holosonics from a long spiraling rabbit hole search on Wikipedia. I began the search on google after watching some documentary on Netflix about the evolution of terms of service agreements of companies like Facebook and other social networking services and quickly ended up stunned by the concept of targeted sound.

Some individuals (and the founder of the company) have described the sounds as, “Messages from your own conscience that no one else can hear.” Which in my opinion is super creepy.

Imagine walking through a grocery store display of bananas (as is shown in one of their many YouTube videos) and hearing your mind telling you,

“Hi, you can hear me, can't you? You're the only one. Look around, no one else can. Know who I am? I'm your inner voice. Now I want to talk to you about something, something really important. Fair trade. Look at them all those bananas in front of you so many to choose from. Which should you buy? I know, and you do too. They’re all good bananas but they’re the only fair-trade ones. So now you know which ones to choose? Make a good choice.”

You weren’t even in the store looking for or wanting to buy bananas. So where is this even coming from?

I’ll add that the in this scenario and YouTube video the company clearly labeled that they were advertising for bananas with a big painted yellow dot on the ground where the customer had to stand to hear the ad. But not all companies are so obvious about their use of this technology.

This is the creepiest part of the Holosonics audio spotlighting technology. Its seamless and so targeted that only you can hear it if you are in the range. Not only that, but due to the lack of regulation on this new technology, companies don’t even have to notify you that they are using this tech to influence you to make decisions on a day to day basis that benefit them.

Oh, and you can be sure that huge companies are more than excited to get their hands on this new method of advertising. They no longer have to spend money on printed ads in magazines, internet sites, or strategically places displays in stores. All they must do is buy a speaker that literally places thoughts into your mind.

In yet another case the television company A&E used this directional audio to advertise for one of their TV shows on the streets of New York city. In an article written by Andrew Hampp on AdAge.com he describes the experience of a young woman walking on the street minding her own business when the following occurs:

“New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last week when she heard a woman's voice right in her ear asking, "Who's there? Who's there?" She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings. Then the voice said, "It's not your imagination." 

The voice was not hers, but it also for sure wasn’t just her imagination... It was an ad for "Paranormal State," which was a ghost stories themed television series that A&E was advertising for the premier of its first episode in December 10, 2007.

According to Andrew Hampps’ article the creator of the technology (Joseph Pompei) used by A&E for that advertisement explained that the intent of the directional audio tech is to, “Spare other people.”

Meaning that, he believes that by lessening the use of regular loudspeakers and reducing noise pollution, the technology may actually benefit human beings in the long run by avoiding annoying large groups of people.

In my opinion that’s one spin you could put on this specific technology. But I’d also have to argue that companies should at the very least be required to use this technology to advertise responsibly.

This technology can have some serious impact on our mental health, especially for those that are just barely holding on to reality as it is.

Who would’ve thought that the idea behind the movie inception could actually become a part of our reality?

Holosonics isn’t the only company staking its claim on this tech either. Sony’s European business division has been working on the tech since the early 2000’s as well and thinks that this will be a billion-dollar tech idea/product completely changing the audio and advertising industries. Other notable companies that are actively investing in the tech also include:

1.       American Technology now named LRAD Corporation

2.       XMOS

3.       Panphonics

While scouring the website of these companies, their true intention becomes incredibly clear:

Under the directional audio tab on the Panphonics website the following quote dove into the motivation behind the development of this tech.

“With traditional speakers the most common solution to all problems is often to play them louder. Humans will not react to sound volume but become numb very quickly to any sound level that maintains the same. With directional audio the idea is to create changes in the volume levels around the area. To create a reaction in a person’s behavior, you need to create an environment where the sound levels vary and surprise the person with volume, content and direction.”

This leading us to note that these companies know that the effectiveness of their current methods of advertising are simply not performing because we as humans have learned to tune them out. So, their only solution at this point is to take that option away from us by directly putting their adverts inside our own minds. They want to become our new biased subconscious voice. No longer will we have the option of looking away from a billboard on the street or simply turning up our headphones on the subway.

The following quote further emphasizes their focus on influencing not only our thoughts but also our where we look and when.

The Panphonics website further states:

“A person can focus only to one audio source at a time. It is possible with directional audio to occupy a person’s interest to selected audio in a precise position, even make them stop and turn their head to a desired direction.”

There are so many things wrong with this that I would need a full 24-hour long podcast episode just to begin addressing them.

I’m sure that many of you would bring up the point that this has been the intention of large companies since the beginning of time

And I would argue that at least with television, radio, billboards and social media advertisements we still have the ability to switch off, turn away or scroll through the advertisements and establish control over our own choices. 

Additionally, I’d argue that at least with regular advertisements, there is some sort of control or legal guidelines that they are required to adhere to.

For instance: in Europe, companies are not allowed to advertise their products falsely to consumers and due to the nature of the regular means of advertising, it’s clear to the customer which posts, or segments of televisions shows are part of the content and which parts are the advertisement. There is a clear division between creative content and the content that is intended to be an advertisement. Even Instagram – which I’m going to cover later this season – has begun to require that any post that is being sponsored must alert other users clearly. Whether through a statement on the post or linking to the company via their partnerships program.

My questions for these regulating companies are endless.

But my top 4 questions are the following:

1.      Will they begin regulating this new technology and how do they intend to assure that these companies follow the law?

2.      Will companies have to begin their subconscious advertisements by clearly introducing themselves and letting each individual know that an advertisement is beginning?

3.      Will they require companies to provide a method to individuals to opt out of their advertisements at any point during?

4.      How do they intend to collect evidence and prosecute companies which actively and consistently create advertisements that creatively skirt those lines?

What I do know for sure is that, at this moment, through all my research… I have yet to find even once piece that covers the idea of regulating this specific type of technology.

Surely, there must be something out there, in terms of discussions among ethics boards, or something like that, that I’m not aware of.

But in my opinion, companies creating technology that could have extreme consequences on human behavior, should be required to report to an un-biased ethics board where they discuss and formulate a clear-cut set of regulations for their specific technology.

Additionally, the moment when their new technology becomes available to the public, the set of regulations they must follow should also be made available to the public.

As I stated earlier; directional audio spotlight technology has been around since the early 2000’s and as expected, the internet and journalists were quick to begin reporting on the tech.

The website WIRED first covered audio spotlight tech in 2002. One of the articles I found briefly discusses the potential uses for this technology, some of which are light, normal and would improve on certain experiences.

But one use, in particular is much, much darker.

In the article, the journalist John Garter writes: 

“American Technology is also working on a stronger version of the technology called Directed Stick Radiator, (at the time CTO Jim Croft) Croft said. This "acoustic assault rifle" is shaped like a gun, but instead of bullets, it dispenses high-decibel sounds that would cause discomfort or even pain.”

“Croft said the company is developing prototypes of the debilitating weapon that could be mounted on a jeep and used for crowd control. "It could be a very effective first-level deterrent," he said.”

American Technology, now known as LRAD Corporation, is a company that began actively working on audio spotlighting technology and quickly signed an agreement to develop the tech for the U.S Army for “Non-Commercial Use”

Since 2002 they began developing a means for psychological warfare.

It’s a commonly held belief that by the time the average individual begins hearing about any new and exciting tech, that tech has already been around for at least a decade.

The darkest part is that of course the use of this tech by governments can easily be justified in cases of civil unrest.

Picture this hypothetical scenario in the current U.S economic and political climate:

You wake up and see a notification about a local protest against a controversial bill. You decide to get a group of your friends and all make your way to the protest location. Soon enough the crowd grows and to actively control and disperse the growing crowd, the police force in attendance decides that using this targeted audio system is their last resort. Everyone around you starts falling to the ground in pure agony. You soon follow.

I mean to be honest in my opinion, this isn’t too far fetched of a scenario. Not only that but the effects of this technology are not entirely known. What If the tech causes injury to the nervous system? Have there been any cases of death as a result of this tech?

On my creepy scale directional audio spotlighting tech ranks pretty high up there.

Sure, there are plenty of good uses for the technology, and it wouldn’t be right to just provide you with the negative uses without covering some uses that may be beneficial to our current society.

For instance, the use of this tech in museums and libraries, makes sense. Around August of 2018 The Mob Museum in Las Vegas was using Holosonics’ audio spotlight tech to give individuals a unique experience as they walk through their Crime Lab exhibit.

Individuals can walk through at their own pace without having to put on and take off headphones to get the history of racketeering and organized crime. With the integration of motion sensors, the spotlighting tech simply must see that a person is standing in front of the exhibit and the 3D sound immediately starts playing inside their head. Virtually no sound bleeds over from any other nearby speakers.

 So, no one else at other close by exhibits would hear the information. Just them. And that has a lot of pros. One of which would be the enhanced individual experience.

In a museum setting and countless libraries currently using the tech, it is beyond superb. But in other locations and undisclosed is it really helping anyone keep their sanity? Could this tech be contributing to an increase in mental health issues?

In addition to social media networks using specifically targeted ads with the sole intention of predicting and influencing our behavior, our grip on reality starts to loosen with each conscious and unconscious interaction.

One must wonder, if an individual now has no ability to control what ads they listen to, are the companies manufacturing or using this technology crossing the line and taking away our rights to autonomy over our own bodies and decisions?

If this technology becomes widely used, do we now have to start second guessing which thoughts are our own or if they were placed in our minds by companies, like 7/11 or T mobile which are two of the larger companies that are using this tech.

We must begin asking ourselves, what price tag do we put on our attention or worse yet, our own sanity. And in the cases of our mental health and our financial decisions, can we really afford to take the chance by giving Holosonic and other companies making and using directional audio, full unregulated control over us?'

I don’t think I can nor do I want to. Do You? Let me know below in the comment section below.

As always, if you have any strange or creepy stories about your interaction with a tech company, gadget or app (or any other tech related things) we would love to hear it! You can send your audio clip or story to WYN@Lshompole.com.