Could Mind Controlled Hearing Aids Deliver Clear Speech in Noise?

Geoffrey Cooling

Researchers from Columbia University in New York have designed a hearing aid that uses cognitive cues to deliver focus on the voice you want to listen to. In essence, they have invented mind controlled hearing aids. The hearing aid picks up several speakers before separating them into individual voices. The hearing aid then uses the listener's brain signals to determine the focus of the listener, the dominant voice they wish to listen to, which it amplifies. The problem at present is that it takes ten seconds to do so and you can't exactly walk around with the set-up, however, that will change as more research and design is undertaken. 

The concept of mind control of hearing aids has been around for some time. The Cognitive Control Of A Hearing Aid project was set up some years ago as a collaboration between several Research Departments across the world. The vision of the project was to work towards cognitive control of hearing aids as the ideal way to increase the benefit of them. Their work has been ongoing since then.

This particular discovery however, came from a team in Columbia University in New York. They made a breakthrough in auditory attention decoding (AAD) which in simple language means how humans sort out sounds. They combined this with a deeper understanding of neural networks and have proven that it is possible to use cognitive signals to present the voice that someone wishes to focus on. 

Columbia Engineering

In testing, they were able to do just that. However, real world applications are a long way off. As I said earlier, it takes ten seconds to achieve the effect at the moment. Initially the first step will be to change that to milli-seconds. Once that is done, the next step will be minaturisation and a strategy to develop un-invasive sensor sets that would be more suitable to daily use. 

We know that the ear canal is a fantastic place to mount sensors of all kinds to read biological data. We can even perform an EEG with a sensor in the ear canal. There will need to be real work done to find a way to place sensors to read the neurological data. That may not be a difficult step though, it just depends on what level of data and how best to collect it. 

No matter what, this is a huge step forward to delivering hearing aids with mind control. Like I said, don't hold your breath just yet, but hopefully within a few years we may see the first mind controlled hearing aids enter the market. When and if they do, it will truly be a groundbreaking moment for hearing aids. It would mean hearing aids that would probably be better than normal hearing, it could make hearing devices attractive to people with no hearing loss. 

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