Although it may sound like science-fiction, researchers have had success using brainwaves and artificial intelligence to essentially determine what voice a listener is focused on and amplify that sound. This is a huge development because, while undamaged human ears perform this activity naturally, people dealing with hearing loss have long had difficulty singling out specific voices in a space full of sounds.
While traditional hearing aids can improve the quality of life for a patient in many ways, they are unable to perform this auditory decoding that the brain can do with input from the inner ear structures.
How brain waves amplify sounds
Scientists at Columbia University had success with attaching electrodes to the brains of participants and using those electrodes to monitor a person’s neural response to various sounds. Next, they employed an algorithm to analyze those responses and determine what sounds a person’s brain was trying to pay attention to. Then, they used that algorithm to amplify only that specific sound. The most promising results of this new study was that the technology proved itself able to recognize and amplify any voice that the participant focused on, even those that it had not previously identified.
Problems addressed by connecting brainwaves with hearing aid technology
This technology is designed to address what is known as the “cocktail party problem,” which occurs when a listener tries to single out one voice in a space where there are many other voices and sounds emitted concurrently. This has long been a serious issue for people with hearing loss, because damage to inner ear structures and connections make it more difficult to focus on and listen to one sound in a noisy environment, and because traditional hearing aids, even with so-called noise reduction, are only able to regulate volume for sounds. Noise reduction helps make things comfortable, but it does not identify specific voices and regulate the volume for them.
The future of brainwaves and hearing aids
Admittedly, this technology is still in the early stages and is not yet ready for widespread deployment. There are obviously practical limitations involved in placing electrodes on a person’s brain. Work needs to be done to develop a method for installing a powerful algorithm like the one used in the study in something as small as a wearable hearing aid.
However, scientists are confident that the results of these tests indicate that this technology has the potential to revolutionize hearing aids for everyone dealing with hearing loss and that the success of this study represents an important breakthrough.
You will not be able to get a hearing aid with brainwave technology yet, but there are still numerous options for high-quality devices that can help you lead a fuller life with hearing loss. We offer a wide variety of next-generation hearing aids to help our patients address their specific aural needs. Contact us today to schedule a consultation at one of our many convenient locations and see how powerful hearing aid technology can change your life.