Hearing Aids & Artificial Intelligence

Bryan Green, HISHearing Aid Technology

Hearing Aids & Artificial Intelligence

In the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a robotic voice in the role of HAL 9000 interacted freely with the crew of the ship, seemingly improvising with them and responding with appropriate answers to their questions and concerns. However, things took a fateful turn when HAL decided not to follow the directives of the crew, instead taking matters into its own hands.

Scenes like these can be the first that come to mind when someone says “Artificial Intelligence” or “AI,” but in fact Artificial Intelligence is already all around us. Though some might become fearful at the thought of robots or computer algorithms becoming so powerful as to think like humans, incredible strides have already been taken, and with great benefit. Before considering the relationship between Artificial Intelligence and hearing aids, let’s take a moment to consider what makes Artificial Intelligence just so special.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

As you know, many devices have intelligence that far outpaces that of a human. Take, for instance, a simple calculator. Small enough to fit in your pocket and for sale at the dollar store, this seemingly simple device is able to do operations immediately that no human mind can do in that time. Does this make a common calculator qualify as Artificial Intelligence? On the contrary, there are many intelligent functions of the human mind that no computer or other entity has been able to replicate to date.

The human brain is particularly adept at understanding language, recognizing complicated visual cues, and monitoring the nuance of social interaction. It is precisely in the domains of human intelligence that Artificial Intelligence steps in. Although computers have long been able to exceed the human capacity for rote memorization and rapid calculation from massive data sets, they have not yet been able to match the human capacity for these other types of communication.

Artificial Intelligence and Hearing Aids

Hearing aids have been intelligent from their very inception, being able to distill complicated sonic environments and to transform them into electrical signals that can be amplified and projected into the ear. Yet, they have only recently become able to meet some of the features of human intelligence that make them considered to have Artificial Intelligence.

One of the best examples comes from the SoundSense Learn technology for Widex EVOKE hearing aids. This creative solution enables the hearing aids to learn from users’ preferences for the ways they like to hear and then to respond with a site- and situation-specific sound profile to meet their needs. How exactly does SoundSense Learn work? The technology is connected to a smartphone app that enables users to describe their own preferences for the hearing aids. In a given listening environment, a user is able to select between two options for their soundscapes. For instance, if a restaurant sounds harsh and annoying to you, you can simply go to the app on your smartphone and choose between two options A and B. With this simple information in hand, SoundSense Learn can develop a personalized profile according to the user’s reported preferences.

Another form of Artificial Intelligence that may be a life-saving innovation comes from hearing aid manufacturer Starkey. Not only can hearing aids monitor the sound in a room, they can also collect bio-measures from the user, including heart and breathing rate. With this information, the units can be used to monitor health and wellness outcomes, even alerting loved ones or emergency personnel to a dangerous change in these measures. If the technology were a brute analysis, they might mistakenly report an emergency when a person is merely going for a jog. However, the sensitive and machine-learning components of the units make it possible to detect when an emergency is taking place.

The Future of AI in Hearing Technology

With these existing innovations that combine Artificial Intelligence with hearing technology, the mind boggles to consider what might happen next. As technology improves its capabilities, it is always important to consider the potential benefits and risks that come attendant to the innovation. Wise and ethical technology development must constantly consider not only what is possible but what is beneficial to society as a whole, as well as any unanticipated consequences that may come down the road.

Posey Hearing Center

For the latest in hearing technology, reach out to our team at Posey Hearing Center. If you are struggling with hearing loss and want to learn more about how advanced hearing solutions can benefit your life, we’re here to help! Contact us today.

Bryan Green, HIS
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