Amazon Wants to Build Headphones That Recognize Your Name

You won't be able to pretend to not hear people anymore.

Getty Images / David Ramos

The days of headphones being a haven of isolation amidst a sea of noise will soon be over. Amazon was granted a patent on July 19 to build noise-cancelling headphones that allow noise in when the headphones hear a certain keyword (like your name).

Using what the patent refers to as “keyword spotting,” Amazon’s future headphones will listen to the ambient noise around you and suspend the noise cancellation feature when it hears the programmed keyword. It’s a technology that Amazon already uses with its Echo smart home products, but the headphones will recognize names other than Alexa (although if your name is Alexa, that’ll work too).

The patent was originally filed back in 2014, the same year the Echo went on the market. Echo, and its Alexa personality, listens and can detect the “Alexa” keyword through a din of noise, even through music playing out of the Echo speaker. It’s already gone from something that people don’t think they will need, to a part of the modern home.

Amazon’s headphones would be able to fill a similar gap.

How Amazon's headphones will work in theory.

U.S. Patent Office

These headphones could be an issue for people with common names, or just names that sound like objects — Matt, Jim, Tre, Art, Jack, etc. — since noise-cancelling headphones are normally used in busy areas. Amazon’s patent has that covered as well. The future headphones will be able to respond to keyword phrases instead of just a person’s name, as well as programmed to only shut off when a specific person’s voice says that keyword or phrase.

Amazon’s voice recognition technology has improved since 2014. Yet judging by the language in the patent, the company had a pretty good idea of the technology that could fit in something as small as a pair of headphones.

Flow of information that the headphones will constantly process.

U.S. Patent Office

The noise-cancelling headphones could include “one or more processors and one or more memory devices” as well as “communication devices,” the patent states. That will allow the headphones to discern between similar sounding words, as well as prioritize certain people’s voices over others. It might take a little learning time, but the headphones will also be able to self-correct to keep from being as clueless as 2011 through 2014 Siri.

There’s not a set release date, or even a guarantee that Amazon will make the product. If it does come out, though, Destiny’s Child “Say My Name” will once again have a chance to become culturally relevant.