Our brains are truly amazing. From downloading information from books to picking out individual voices somewhere such as Press Start, our brains are able to process information in a way that technology struggles to replicate.
While today’s hearing aids have difficulty switching focus from speaker to speaker in a group setting, the hearing aids of tomorrow are showing promise. We review what researchers at Columbia University in New York City are currently developing to help you hear and interact better.
The Challenge for Today’s Hearing Aids
Hearing aids can use directional microphones to select a single speaker’s voice and amplify it while suppressing distracting background noises such as city traffic and clanking dishes. However, hearing aids have a hard time boosting an individual speaker’s voice over other voices. This is especially true when the target voice is not directly in front of the wearer.
Today’s hearing aids instead tend to amplify all speakers at once. This is known as the cocktail party problem, and it severely hinders the ability of a hearing aid wearer to participate in conversations in group settings.
The Solution for Hearing Aids of Tomorrow
Rather than continuing to use directional microphones to identify the correct speaker, the new technology being developed by researchers at Columbia actually monitors the wearer’s brain waves. The speaker whose voice pattern matches the listener’s brain waves is amplified.
First, the system separates the voices of individual speakers from a group. Then, it compares them to the brain waves of the person listening.
The technology used in these devices is extremely complex, relying on speech-separation algorithms with neural networks to perform the task. Neural networks are complex mathematical models that imitate the brain’s natural computational abilities.
“By creating a device that harnesses the power of the brain itself, we hope our work will lead to technological improvements that enable the hundreds of millions of hearing-impaired people worldwide to communicate just as easily as their friends and family do,” explained senior study author Nima Mesgarani, Ph.D.
Next, the team plans to transform the prototype into a noninvasive device that can be worn externally. They also plan to refine the algorithm so it can function in a broader range of environments.
For more information on the benefits of hearing aids or to schedule an appointment, call Ear, Nose & Throat Consultants today.