[extropy-chat] Deaf hacker rewrites implant-firmware to enjoy music again

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Thu Jan 5 14:52:21 UTC 2006

A fantastic story via Cory Doctorow and Boing Boing
( http://www.boingboing.net) :

Deaf hacker rewrites implant-firmware so he can enjoy music again

Cory Doctorow:
A deaf hacker diligently tinkered with the firmware on his cochlear
implant, trying to get it to faithfully render out Ravel's symphony,
Boléro, eventually meeting with success. Michael Chorost was born with
partial hearing, and at 15, he discovered that Boléro was audible to
him, and it became a touchstone for him, a piece of music that he
developed a deep emotional attachment to. In 2001, Chorost experienced
the sudden, total loss of the remains of his hearing, and Boléro was
lost to him, seemingly forever.

In this Wired feature, Chorost chronicles the amazing journey he
embarked upon, learning the science of acoustics, of music, and of
signal processing, reprogramming the firmware in his implanted
prosthetic with the help of experts around the world with various
theories about the psycho-acoustic basis for music.

The story is gripping, fascinating and informative -- a template for a
tale that I believe will become more and more prevalent in times to
come: a person who relies on computerized prosthetics not being
satisfied with the features that were included with it out of the box,
taking it upon herself to improve it, to extend it, using her own body
and perceptions as a laboratory for experiments on human perception and

"I spent two and a half days hooked up to the computer, listening to
endless sequences of tones - none of it music - in a windowless
cubicle. Which of two tones sounded lower? Which of two versions of
"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was more recognizable? Did this string
of notes sound like a march or a waltz? It was exacting,
high-concentration work - like taking an eye exam that lasted for two
days. My responses produced reams of data that they would spend hours

Forty minutes before my cab back to the airport was due, we finished
the last test and the postdoc fired up the programs he needed to play
Boléro. Some of the lower pitches I'd heard in the previous two days
had sounded rich and mellow, and I began thinking wistfully about
those bassoons and oboes. I felt a rising sense of anticipation and

I waited while the postdoc tinkered with the computer. And waited.
Then I noticed the frustrated look of a man trying to get Windows to
behave. "I do this all the time," he said, half to himself. Windows
Media Player wouldn't play the file.

I suggested rebooting and sampling Boléro through a microphone. But
the postdoc told me he couldn't do that in time for my plane. A later
flight wasn't an option; I had to be back in the Bay Area. I was
crushed. I walked out of the building with my shoulders slumped.
Scientifically, the visit was a great success. But for me, it was a
failure. On the flight home, I plugged myself into my laptop and
listened sadly to Boléro with Hi-Res. It was like eating cardboard."


Amara Graps, PhD          email: amara at amara.com
Computational Physics     vita:  ftp://ftp.amara.com/pub/resume.txt
Multiplex Answers         URL:   http://www.amara.com/
"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the
inexpressible is music."   --Aldous Huxley

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