Ever fantasize that you can control things with your mind? Sound like a sci-fi movie? Well, for hearing aid wearers, mind control might be the next big thing. Investigators from Columbia University in New York are developing a mind-controlled hearing aid. The team believes that this device can transform the ability of persons with hearing loss to communicate more efficiently in rough listening conditions.
The key to the hearing aid is that it imitates the brain’s natural ability to single out a single voice and amplify it against other voices. The ability to decipher a unique voice among many is not available even on the most sophisticated hearing aids available at present. However, the brain area that processes sound is sensitive and powerful. It can amplify one voice over others effortlessly. Today’s modern hearing aids pale in comparison.
The Cocktail Party Effect
The cocktail party effect is the capacity to focus one’s attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other noise. It is directly related to selective hearing and it occurs not just at cocktail parties but in any environment where a person’s voice drowns out due to a jabbering crowd. People often put off getting a hearing aid. Because of this delay, the brain forgets how to filter out the noise and focus on the speech. Scientists and hearing aid manufacturers work continuously to improve the ability of hearing aids to understand a specific voice among many. Although modern hearing aids do an excellent job of amplifying speech while suppressing sounds such as traffic, they encounter problems when attempting to boost the volume of a single voice over others. In crowded places, hearing aids tend to amplify all of the speakers at the same time, which hinders a hearing aid wearer’s ability to communicate effectively.
Brain-controlled hearing aids use a combination of artificial intelligence and sensors that monitor the listener’s brain activity. The hearing aid uses an algorithm to separate the voices of multiple speakers, then likens these audio tracks to the brain action of the listener. The device compares the audio of each speaker to the brain waves of the person wearing the hearing aid. The speaker whose voice pattern most closely matches the listener’s brain waves amplifies over the others, which allows the listener to tune in to that person.
At present, hearing aids that involve direct implants int the brain are unsuitable for commercial use. The researchers hope that the creation of a non-invasive version of the device will be available within the next five years. They believe that the placement of electrodes inside the ear or under the skin of the scalp can make the non-invasive brain-controlled hearing aid a reality.
It may take a few years before brain-controlled hearing aids are a reality. In the meantime, if you have trouble hearing, schedule a hearing evaluation today with a hearing healthcare professional who can diagnose and treat your hearing loss.