Page 85 - Winter 2020
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touches on my talk. I was getting awfully excited about the chance to give a podium presentation to that brilliant audience when I saw an email from Expedia asking me how my travels were going. “That’s a funny bug in their system,” I thought. I’d idiotically had the wrong day in my calendar for months. Last minute flights from Scotland to the United States are not cheap, nor are they covered by a grant that paid for one already.
What advice do you have for budding acousticians?
Work in AR. VR is a fascinating technology for any number of reasons, but AR is a step change beyond that. From its remarkable utility as a perceptual research tool to its promise as a future way in which we will interact with technology, its importance will only increase over time. What’s more, I believe that pairing hearing assistance devices with AR will give them capabilities that utterly eclipse those of small form factor hearing aids.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you deal with that if so? I absolutely experience imposter syndrome. Performance expectations at FRL are very high. While getting lunch, I might find myself standing behind someone who wrote substantial portions of Windows. I have regular meetings with the person who invented digital hearing aids. I go to conferences alongside researchers who have shaped our understanding of how the brain works. I sit among any number of blindingly clever people whose work is genuinely magical to me; really, it’s impossible not to ask yourself, “Why on Earth am I here too?”
The only thing that works for me is to fully accept that there will always be someone much better than you at everything. Are you really good at Matlab programming? Sorry, there are literally thousands of people out there who are 10 times better than you. But that’s OK. It’s always best to be operating at the bleeding edge of your competence; that is how you learn. What you bring to that research project, to that journal article, to that meeting of terrifyingly smart people is a particular combination of skills and backgrounds that result in an insight that is uniquely yours. What’s more, why spend hours trying to fit a function to some crazy data when there’s a brilliant person two meters away who got her degree in mathematics? The most interesting and
important problems facing auditory research are too complex for one person to tackle anyway; it’s what you can accomplish as a group that matters. Find that group, ask the questions, be naïve, be curious, and be generous with what you do know because odds are someone has imposter syndrome around you too.
What do you want to accomplish within the next 10 years or before retirement?
There is so much sophisticated signal processing that can be done to enhance a signal of interest for someone who is having trouble hearing in a noisy environment, and careers are made on enhancing it by even a few decibels. But the often-ignored problem is, what is the signal of interest? How do we know what someone is listening to and how do we tell whether they are having trouble doing so? If we can correctly estimate these things on a moment-to-moment basis, we can build devices that continually adjust themselves and do so in such an intuitive manner that you won’t even know they are on. I believe that such technology would be genuinely transformative, helping people have natural, relaxed conversations in environments in which they had no chance before. Only time will tell whether we get there, but this is a puzzle worth spending a career on.
Brimijoin, W. O. (2018). Angle-dependent distortions in the perceptual topology of acoustic space. Trends in Hearing 22, 2331216518775568.
Brimijoin, W. O., Boyd, A. W., and Akeroyd, M. A. (2013). The contribution of head movement to the externalization and internalization of sounds. PLOS ONE 8, e83068.
Town, S. M., Brimijoin, W. O., and Bizley, J. K. (2017). Egocentric and allocentric representations in auditory cortex. PLOS Biology 15, e2001878.
 Contact Information
W. Owen Brimijoin
Facebook Reality Labs Research 9845 Willows Road NE
Redmond, Washington 98052, USA
Micheal L. Dent
Department of Psychology University at Buffalo
State University of New York (SUNY) B76 Park Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260, USA
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