Fascinating article from Popular Science today on an effort to use lasers to build a hearing system more accurate and expansive than the cochlear implant. The infrared lasers would more accurately stimulate the nerves in the ear, meaning a fuller, clearer perception of sound.
Cochlear implants are widely available, albeit very expensive, but they can only restore very little of a person’s hearing. Current models can produce four to eight frequencies of sound, by stimulating nerves in the cochlea — the snail-shaped part of the inner ear — with eight separate electrodes... Eight is not enough, explains Mark Bendett of Lockheed Martin Aculight, which is developing the laser-based technology. “The greater the frequencies, the more independent sounds you can create,” he said. “Current technology would be like having four to eight notes on a piano keyboard, but we could do as many keys as you like — 88 keys on a piano if you want. Then it is much easier to reproduce Mozart.”
That last sentence, by the way, is the first example of the quote-machine that is Mark Bendett. Check out a few more of his gems:
"“We humans are wet, salty beasts, and we tend to conduct electricity pretty well."
“We are one arrow in the quiver of the neurologist of the future.”
So, in addition to clearer sound, the advantage of getting one of these implants would be hanging out with this guy and picking up on more of Bendett's highly quotable research-speak.