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Synthetic synesthesia

Synesthesia is a condition in which people have difficulty distinguishing between various sensory inputs.

You smell

and you see, and you hear. Presently, computers are very limited in the sensory data they can provide. Suppose I am eating a slice of pizza right now, I can say "click here to hear the sound of my chewing", or "click here to see the pizza", but how about "lick here to taste this pizza"?

Any smell coming from a computer is probably a bad sign (e.g. a burning smell).

Artificially induced synesthesia would allow us to map taste, or smell, onto another medium like vision or sound, that can be transmitted over a computer system using current technology.

Seeing music

A more traditional example of artificially induced synesthesia is the conversion of sound to vision, which is traditionally done with a bank of filters, the output of which drives a light (usually each light is of a different color so that the sound can be "seen" without looking directly at the apparatus). Such a collection of audio filters and light sources is known as a color organ. A device as simple as a blinking light that flashes when someone is knocking at the door may be used to enable a deaf person to "hear" the bell.

Hearing video

Consider the reverse, a device that would allow a person to "hear shapes". Such a device would consist of one or more cameras sending live video to a computer, with the computer sending audio back to the user. It is easy to imagine how a blind person could be guided by someone at a remote viewing station talking into a microphone. This system requires a full-duplex radio communications link so that video could be transmitted while audio was received at the same time.

Now, instead of having a person at a remote site, imagine having a computer either at a remote site, or worn locally by the user.

Synthetic synesthesia of 6th and 7th senses

Imagine if we had extrasensory perception. Let me invent a 6th or 7th sense, say, radar. We cannot perceive radar directly, but we can wear an instrument that does, and we can map the output of this instrument to another sense. I found that Doppler auralization allowed me to walk down a corridor, or the like, in total darkness, so it appears that radar can provide sufficient information to give us some simple navigatonal ability. However, in presenting my findings to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, it became apparent that blind people rely heavily on the sense of hearing, and that any device that uses headphones or even produces sound is unacceptable. Thus the next phase of the project was to develop vibrotactile radar systems, so that I could feel objects at a distance, pressing against my body. As the objects get closer they press "harder", resulting in a Reality Metaphor User Interface (RMUI).

Radar gives us different information about the world than our regular five senses, so its use may extend beyond the visually impaired. It may be used to augment the existing senses, and provide us with a better understanding of the world around us. In particular, I find that while riding my bicycle, I am able to attain a better awareness of the world around me by using radar as an extra sense. I am aware of traffic that is coming up behind me, even if it is out of sight (either off in the distance, our out of the field of view of my electronic mirror).


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