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We can help you hear the voices.

It's just having an audio connection open with the other person as you both go about doing whatever you were doing, a persistent phone call, if you will.

This is nice between two people, sure, but what happens when we move #JoiIto to a system like this? How noisy would it be? How would it scale? And is there a way to do it that would work for Windows, Mac and Linux?

Grant, Joi, and John are all discussing something that's existed in the sci-fi and military circles for a much longer time: continuous audio communication. Starship Troopers makes a perfect example; a swarm of troopers, all linked to their commanders at any time they wish. A primary protagonist in the novel Xenocide exists only through her expression of self via electronic mediums -- occasionally visual, but primarily aural.

We're on the cusp of changing the way humans communicate forever. More and more people have discovered the power of instant messaging, as texting takes off overseas and all major operating systems ship messenger clients. The only remaining limit to this always-on connection has been the social ramifications of being connected: the technological warts on your skull.

With the rise in popularity of Star Trek (and science fiction in general), a growing number of people have been exposed to the concept of machine augmentation. In the books and in the movies there's cyborgs; people who, for one reason or another, are augmented with (or replaced entirely by) machines. For those who see technology as a plague, this is one of the worst nightmares: augmented humans.

Cell phones have introduced a completely different force into motion, the power of large groups with effective communication. The ability to be connected by audio to anyone in the world is coming into reach, slowly. A major forward jump towards this occured when cell phones began to saturate the teenage market, thanks in part to their early adopter, computer-friendly parents.

Such a jump will occur with the advent of computer-driven headsets. Using low-power wireless chips (and, if desired, certain blue-sky power sources) a human being can be put in touch with a computer, any time of day or not. Most people are accustomed to the computer being a telephone - so I'd like to introduce headset "party lines".

If you're interested in talking to whoever's in range of your wireless, flick a switch; now you've got an automatic party line, joined by anyone else who's in range. While the potential for abuse in public could be strong, the ripples would make a wonderful complement to instant messenging.

Texting could be turned into a permanent audio channel into someone's ear, providing a Flash website that channels the users' microphones straight into your ear - adjusted for volume and filtered, of course. With an aural voicemail-like interface, messages can be replied to, ignored, deleted, etc.

One unexpected change comes from the direction of IRC: open public spheres of communication. You must choose to join in, and you can leave at any time; conversation occurs whenever it will. The need to respond is somehow absent; those who lack the ability to find a comfortable silence may have much better luck using IRC. It's pretty neat stuff, and I'd like to channel it directly into my ear.

Unfortunately, I can't spend all of my time walking around muttering an audio commentary of my life - even with a headset. While fun, it would become distracting. In the interests of keeping the conversation lively, though, I'd be happy to stream a video feed from the earpiece; a small camera would be easy to merge with most headsets.

In the end, my goal is simple: I'd like to bring anyone who's willing to participate into the videoconference I'm holding with the world. It's a live performance; y'all are invited.


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