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Google’s Project Wolverine is a lens on the future…

Google’s Project Wolverine is a lens on the future…
August 21, 2023

Google’s X division has been secretly working on a fascinating project it calls “Wolverine.” It has to do with technology that enhances augmented reality (AR) applications, but not in the way we might think.  Google’s X division focuses exclusively on “moonshot” projects. These are bold initiatives, but the company doesn’t know if they will work. The idea is that these moonshots will either become huge mass-market products… or they will never gain traction and fizzle out.  And Project Wolverine is all about supplying users with a wearable device that employs directional microphones to enable “super hearing.” It’s a reference to the X-Men character Wolverine. 

The technology is still being fleshed out. The idea is that these directional microphones will connect to ear pods and likely work in conjunction with both outward- and inward-facing cameras on a pair of glasses or some other wearable device. This will allow the sensor-packed hardware to know who we are focusing on in the room. And then we can direct the microphones to zero in on what that person is saying. The mics will filter out the background noise so we can hear our target clearly.  

This technology is called speech segregation, and I think it is the future. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I typically attended several conferences. These events feature formal presentations as well as informal networking events.  And often the most valuable part of the conference is simply talking to people in the common areas before and after the events. The only problem with this is that it is often chaotic and very noisy in these common areas at large conferences. There can be thousands of people buzzing around, and it can be hard to hear the person you are talking to clearly. Speech segregation solves that problem.

We can imagine using this device at events like these to focus in on the person we are speaking to. This cuts through all the chaos in common areas. And it would be incredibly useful for the formal presentations as well.  Of course, the same dynamic is true for any other event or gathering. This tech would be useful even at our holiday cocktail parties. So I think that every company working on AR will ultimately adopt this technology. It just makes too much sense.  That said, there are major privacy concerns with this. It’s easy to imagine how this tech could be used for nefarious purposes. Bad actors could eavesdrop on private conversations happening at coffee shops, restaurants, and town squares. And then there’s Google…  

We already know that Google’s goal is to extract as much behavioral data from us as possible. The company packages this data into a detailed dossier that it sells to anyone willing to pay. In this way, the argument could be made that Google knows many of us better than we know ourselves.  Now, imagine Google pairing facial recognition technology with speech segregation.  Suddenly, Google can document exactly what we are talking about out in public. That gives it an even more invasive framework in which to build its profile on us. So this is incredibly useful technology that I believe will gain rapid adoption. But as with everything, we need to be diligent about how it is used.

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