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If you think about artificial intelligence, what comes to mind? For some it would be a robot like Rosie from the Jetsons, nearly human in her intelligence yet lacking that emotional spirit that makes us who we are as individuals. For others, artificial intelligence brings to mind a computer buried in a server field beneath the earth, churning out the calculations that result in so many of the algorithmic tools we use today via the Internet. Still others might think of self-driving cars or robotic vacuum cleaners that have the ability to “learn” from their own experiences. Well, believe it or not, some of these remarkable forms of artificial intelligence are made possible in those tiny technological devices we call hearing aids. Let’s look at a few of the remarkable new possibilities for artificial intelligence and machine learning that the latest hearing aids afford.
Those with older models of hearing aids will be familiar with the need to adjust volume when walking into a noisy restaurant, an echoing shopping mall, or even a quiet place of worship. These adjustments were necessary to adapt to the noise floor in a given room or location, making sure that the hearing aids were not overwhelmed with information, causing the loud squeal of feedback. Some of the latest hearing aids today have found a way to deal with this problem through artificial intelligence. The microphone in the hearing aids can gather data on the sound profile in an environment, not only the general level of volume but any particular frequencies that are very loud or soft in the space. With this information in hand, the hearing aids can connect to an app on your Smartphone to “remember” the sound environment they are encountering. Not only can this process of adjustment happen automatically and quite easily, but the next time you enter that place, your app will be able to automatically adjust to the environment making it best suited to your personal level of hearing ability.
One of the other common complaints about hearing aids is that they are not able to quickly identify and emphasize the voice of a speaker, particularly when a person is standing beside you rather than directly facing you. The latest hearing aids are able to use artificial intelligence to sift through the complex profile of sound waves that come to your ears, being able to pick out the voice of the closest speaker and to raise the volume on that person rather than others. Particularly in a party, dinner, or other social event, past hearing aids tried to employ voice recognition technology to lower background noise and lift up human speech, yet they were not suited to a situation with many speakers at the same time. The benefit of these new models with artificial intelligence is that they are remarkably able to pick out the closest voice and isolate the sound of that speaker.
Another fascinating possibility with some of the latest hearing aids is to use artificial intelligence to monitor your health through your ears! Similar to the health monitoring watches that many people wear, your hearing aids may be able to monitor such health data as heart rate and breathing rate, as well as counting your “steps.” Beyond these forms of monitoring that fitness watches have already made possible, new health monitoring systems in hearing aids may be able to connect with apps on your Smartphone and your loved ones to notify them if you have a health emergency. Even something like a fall or cardiac event can be detected by these hearing aids and passed along to emergency medical personnel as well as your family to make sure you are okay. With these possibilities, just imagine the other features that will be developed in the coming years. Artificial intelligence is not just about robots that can make you a cappuccino! We can use machine learning and artificial intelligence to make our lives better, safer, and healthier in remarkable new ways. If you are interested in any of the above features, inquire with your audiologist or hearing health professional to see if there are any hearing aids on the market that are available for your hearing needs.