Hearing aids are a technological wonder. A tiny, sleek device that restores hearing and the ability to stay connected to the sounds of everyday life is miraculous enough, but the evolution of the hearing aid continues to assimilate the best that innovative discoveries bring to our lives. The hearing aid has kept pace with digital processing, Bluetooth, and smartphones by evolving its connectedness abilities. Need to adjust your hearing aid from your phone? There’s an app for that. Need to connect to a movie theater’s sound system for better listening? There’s a device for that.
With the flurry of recent upgrades, it’s hard to imagine what the next iteration could be. Columbia University is conducting research with the Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine, and Feinstein Institute for Medical Research to make hearing aids function at an even higher level by eliminating one of the most common complaints from hearing aid users: crowded social situations.
Even with the amazing bells and whistles of a hearing device, crowd noise continues to be difficult to manage for the hearing impaired. It’s challenging for a hearing aid to pick up which noises are the important ones and which noises can be discarded or toned down.
To tackle how to process which noises to focus on and which ones to ignore, researchers used external probes on a cap that covers the scalp to monitor brain activity as participants engage in conversations with multiple people in a crowd. The probes were able to determine where the participant was focusing his/her attention in a conversation. From there, the theory is that a hearing aid can be taught, through Artificial Intelligence, to determine the source of the sound and then amplify that one sound while ignoring or suppressing other competing background noises.
According to Techopedia, “Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. Some of the activities computers with artificial intelligence are designed for include: speech recognition, learning, planning (and) problem-solving. Knowledge engineering is a core part of AI research. Machines can often act and react like humans only if they have abundant information relating to the world.”
Combining the input absorption capabilities of an AI platform with the already stellar functionality of a modern hearing aid may result in one of the biggest breakthroughs for hearing health in decades, and given recent advancements, that’s quite an accomplishment. Imagine using a hearing aid that learns your patterns and adjusts to your conversational needs in real time. Just a few years ago, Bluetooth connectivity was transformative for hearing aids, and now we’re talking about using neural networks in a device small enough to fit in the human ear.
The Columbia University-led research means we may start to see AI hearing aids in the next five years, bringing yet another option to the table for the millions of people committed to preserving their hearing health.