Gordon Moore famously declared that the number of transistors in a densely populated circuit would double every year over the next ten years. When asked in a 2015 interview how he came up with this number, he admitted to drawing “a wild extrapolation.”
He amended his statement in 1975 to say that the number of transistors would double every two years, not one. Since then, what is now known as “Moore’s Law” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as transistor companies characteristically target this periodic doubling.
46 years later it still rings true. Technological development continues to double every two years, and shows no signs of slowing. It makes sense then, in an effort to keep ahead of the Joneses (or the Metas and the Googles), that some promising technological developments fell on deaf ears.
Take Google Glass for instance. Priced out of reach without a clear benefit, Google Glass crashed and burned. Remember Segways? What once was touted as a transportation marvel is now relegated to overpriced do-it-yourself tours for vacationers with time and money to burn.
“When it comes to technology, I think the question always is why,” says Jeremy McKane of Fronics, the creator of a voice sensor that is up to 22 times more sensitive than the current market standard, the MEMS microphone. Especially when trying to hit a constantly moving target. Is new technology solving a problem, or is it technology for technology’s sake — a solution looking for a problem?
MEMS Microphones versus Fronics
Digital MEMS (short for Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) microphones are used in electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, tablets, and hearing aids.
“Why would we want to innovate something that seemingly worked for the last 70 years or so?” ask Kisoo Kim, CEO of Fronics. Because new technology demands it. Sure, MEMS mics can record and playback sound. That’s what they were built for. But amid the accelerating development of artificial intelligence (AI), they fall short. MEMS microphones were “not invented for communication with a machine.
“The most important difference between our sensor and the MEMS microphone is that our sensor uses resonance. It can detect the human voice up to eight times further away from the source. We also have seven channels, because when the AI machine has to identify people, it needs as much information about the voice as it can get.
“MEMS microphones have only one channel, so the information that it gets is not enough to differentiate people’s voices. When you talk with somebody, you recognize who you are speaking with, and when you speak with the AI machine, the machine also has to recognize who it is speaking with at times, such as with AI security.
“The Fronics sensor is designed like the human ear. It’s the exact same concept. It allows us to get a really clear, concise signal. I hope in the future when we talk to machines when I say take me to Wall Street, it doesn’t take me into the Hudson River or worse. Maybe there’s someone else in the car who wants to go somewhere else. It’s important for the microphone to be able to know which voice is mine because I’m the owner and I’m authenticated. This is a huge aspect of voice recognition that’s really left to the imagination. I feel like we’ve missed the mark as a collective human body to really make this a reality. What Fronics has done is made something as close as possible that allows machines to hear just like humans do.”
The Ethics of A Burgeoning Technology
What about the ethics of a sensor that closely mimics the capability of the human ear?
“From a privacy standpoint, I don’t think it has anything to do with products developing sensor technology,” says Yobie Benjamin Franklin, Chairman of Fronics Technology. “They’re just a better way to capture audio. Where you get into some of the ethical issues is when we start talking about how we actually create the rules around the data that we gather, why we gather it, and the transparency of what we gather. But that’s completely separate and has nothing to do with Fronics, which at its core is a hardware company. We’re just trying to perfect the way that works.”
What Does the Future Hold for Sound Sensing Technology?
“Imagine being able to sense the sound of an earthquake before any other system, or a structural change inside an aircraft,” continues Franklin. There could be a certain rubbing or sound that wouldn’t get picked up by the human ear or traditional microphones, and we might be able to do that with some innovation. We’re starting to pontificate on what is possible, but when we look at sensing the world in a new way, it could really open up ways that we could help environmental, social, and governance issues.”
When It Comes to New Technology the Question is Always “Why?” and “When?”
“Why would we want to innovate something that seemingly worked for the last 70 years or so? Why would we change it? I relate that question to the time I was asked in the early 1990s, why should I carry a cell phone? Now, nobody can operate a business without a cell phone. I think the same thing is going to be true here,” Franklin explains.
Google Glass is making a comeback because the timing is right. “We’re seeing a number of different companies creating AR glasses. And we believe the timing is right for voice sensors to finally rise to the needs of AI.”
What about Segways? Is the timing finally right? Will we be seeing a growing number of Segways coming to a city near you? Probably not. “The technology was awesome,” says entrepreneur Peter Shankman. “The world just wasn’t ready for it.”