Now playing: The sounds of data streams

Information overload never sounded so sweet, thanks to a new technology that turns data stream fluctuations into musical notes

Are you suffering from visual data overload? If so, it might be time to bring other senses into the fray -- hearing, for example. ICAP Ocean Tomo, one of the world's largest patent auction firms, is selling off a portfolio of patents for technology that turns data stream changes into sounds. The item also includes sound-enabled financial trading software, both developed by Soft Sound Holdings, LLC.

Auditory display technology, which Harvard Business Review called a top 10 breakthrough idea in 2005, uses musical sounds to depict data movements and relationships. If you're a financial trader monitoring huge amounts of market data to determine when to make a move, this technology can alert you not only to which data is moving, but in which direction and by how much. It does all of this using a combination of instrument sounds, pitch, decay, and melody.

For example, you might assign a bass note to represent the natural gas market, with the software alerting you to your preconfigured upward and downward thresholds with higher or lower bass notes. Market volume changes could be represented by various amounts of decay or vibrato. Combine the auditory with the visual, and it turns out you'll perceive the change and respond as much as 15 percent faster than with visual alone, according to a study by Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.

Don't laugh. Data overload and response time are issues in many different fields today, including intensive care medicine, air traffic control, security monitoring, factory process control, and even soldier response time in the battlefield, according to ICAP Ocean Tomo. Once a user becomes attuned to auditory cues, it has the potential not only to increase response time but even reduce errors. A 15 percent increase in productivity and response time can be a significant competitive advantage, if you can stand the noise. Now can we incorporate the sense of smell too? The auction takes place on March 31 in New York.

This story, "Now playing: The sounds of data streams," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.