Artificial Intelligence in hearing technology

Artificial Intelligence in hearing technology

Artificial Intelligence( AI) involves machines capable of performing tasks that only human intelligence could previously solve.

One of the first AI programs was designed to do a simple task: play chess. The program didn't play well, at least not at first. Over time, however, it played enough games to'learn' which moves worked. This led to the machine becoming ever more skilled at the game, eventually beating some of the world's best chess players.

The same principle has been used to teach a computer to perform many other tasks. You may have heard of these advances in self-driving vehicles, smartphones, and smart homes. Now the technology is being used in hearing aids.


How could AI revolutionize hearing aids?

Some might be skeptical of how much AI can help those with hearing loss. We already know that human beings are already very qualified to perceive meaning in language from audible and contextual clues.

However, the advent of AI in hearing aid technology can mimic these abilities. Through a series of complex algorithms, AI can now do some of the more complex tasks that only a brain had been able to do previously.


Here are a few such tasks:

Learning what you like: Through a series of questions and observations, it can learn your hearing preferences, and determine how you prefer to hear.

Automatic settings: AI can recall the settings that you used in specific environments and which programs you prefer. Once you've trained your devices,they'll be able to scan the environment, change between programs, and adjust settings more accurately than you can, so you'll spend more time enjoying the sounds around you and less time adjusting your device.

From a 'prediction' model to a 'confirmation' model

The current generation of non-AI hearing aids tends to classify sound environments in simple terms like 'quiet' or 'noisy.' It then uses that information to provide appropriate sound settings. You might call this a 'prediction'approach to signal processing, since a prediction is being made by the computer and not verified by any user data.

In any given sound environment, however, there are so many variables that influence speech comprehension. With Artificial Intelligence, the focus is on whether the current sound settings achieve the desired outcome for the user. This is called the 'confirmation approach' and allows the program to adjust its settings to the user's requirements.


Which hearing aids have AI capabilities?

Although AI is still inits early days when it comes to hearing aids, there are currently a few models on the market that are already leveraging the technology.

The Widex Evoke makes full use of the company's Sound sense Learn platform. This lets you optimize your settings by listening to sound profiles suggested by an app on your smartphone. Simply pick what sounds best, and the machine-learning algorithm then learns to automatically offer you these kinds of settings.

Another hearing aid which harnesses AI is the Starkey Livio AI, recognized as the first 'healthable' hearing aid. This model is one of the first hearing aids to bridge the gap between the medical and consumer tech industries.

The device streams phone calls and music directly into the wearer's ears and has cutting-edge features to monitor physical exercise and brain health.

 The Livio AI, however,is especially good at improving the wearer's listening ability in noisy environments. This is where artificial intelligence ( AI) becomes useful. The embedded AI technology can make decisions faster and smarter in response to changing sound conditions.

It has been trained to identify different sounds using thousands of sound files – such as a car engine turning on – so it can quickly move to change the hearing aid settings so that the user can hear foreground noise better.

These kinds of hearing advancements have not gone unnoticed - The Livio AI recently secured a spot in TIME magazine's 2019 list of the 100 best inventions.


The future of AI and hearing treatment

Although the above technology is impressive, it is still a developing subset of the hearing aid market. However, as technology becomes more widely available, expect to see many more AI hearing aids being released.

Removing background noise when processing individual sounds or voices is one of the most stubborn issues with hearing aids, but this might be solved by a new AI algorithm developed by Google. This algorithm can discern a speech signal from many other voices, and background sounds very successfully.

This form of AI represents a significant leap forward in hearing technology. Once the system is perfected and made available to users with hearing aids, it could make it much easier for people with hearing loss to hear someone talking to them, however noisy the environment might be.

Written by
Reviewed by
Dr. David DeKriek
Audiologist & Founder
Read full bio

David DeKriek, Au.D. has been helping the hearing impaired of Los Angeles County to hear better for more than 20 years. Dr. Dekriek gained experience in a wide range of medical environments before opening Fidelity Hearing Center.

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