Ear Hacking

June 2012

film, runninglives, rca

With thanks to Sebastian Thielke, Amina Abbas-Nazari, Hendrik Frentrup and members of the Imperial College Cross Country and Athletics Club.

Exhibited at Show RCA 2012 as part of the Running Lives with Data project.

Winner of the Design Fiction Category (People's Choice) in the Postscapes Internet of Things Awards 2012.

Could you hack a runner, if you could change what they were listening to?

Many people run to music and often with a device that is connected to the Internet. Their ears are online. If you could access the device and manipulate the music, could you then manipulate the runner?

Intuitively we run to the beat. This is supported by the work of Dr Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University. If you could change the beat, could you change their speed? Perhaps.

Our sense of balance can be manipulated by a technique called Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation. This causes people to attempt to rebalance. Researchers at NTT have modified headphones to allow someone's movement to be remote controlled using GVS. There is some evidence that this can be stimulated audibly, but the effects are less pronounced.

What we hear can also stop us speaking. SpeechJammer is a device that forces people to garble their words.

So perhaps we could control a runner's behaviour through sound. We certainly know that music can change our mood. What if you could filter the playlists of runners one morning in a park to be more upbeat? Would that make the whole city happier? Or what about making subliminal suggestions? Isn't that what mass media does to us anyway?

The Ear Hacking film is a Critical Design response to this. How should we safeguard our online ears?

My talk at Music Tech Fest (19th May 2013).