June 2022 Update: Some insights from Dr Dave Fabry, Chief Innovation Officer at Starkey, about the AI of the future further down the page.
For hearing aids to be successful, they need to do a good job of adapting to the wearer's hearing needs, as well as sorting out challenges such as background noise. Automated features within hearing aids have really helped wearers gain access to better sound, but I always look at this from a negative angle too.
Hearing aid automation can sometimes offer something different from what you want or expect. Almost as though it is sacrificing one aspect of the sound you hear for another. If you are a hearing aid user you will know that louder isn't the solution.
AI within hearing aids is still in its infancy, but it has started a journey that fuses the wearer and AI together to solve everyday listening problems. Automation has had a face-lift and below I talk about how this new generation of hearing can help your everyday listening experiences, as well as weighing up features vs benefits.
We've all come across Artificial Intelligence in our lives before, but did you know that hearing aids can be powered by AI and can actually help your hearing through personalisation? A technology that can learn and organically grow with you and your preferences. Adapting to real-life listening challenges to make hearing simply better and easier.
Artificial Intelligence today is used for many things and is pretty much within every home. From helping you select your next Netflix binge series to the complexities of Machine Learning and predicting outcomes based on data and learning from actual human decisions. It's almost as though we don't even give it a second thought, as we steadily become an automated AI generation.
Essentially, AI is when a machine or system is trained by humans to complete tasks and jobs that a human can do. For example, figuring out the fastest commute to work. All this training eventually results in the system being able to predict outcomes and create success criteria. In digital hearing aids, AI helps the devices to function better.
If you are already a hearing aid wearer you might have had the experience of feeling that your hearing aids aren't quite right for you or supporting you the way they should. For instance, you are drinking coffee with a friend in a busy coffee shop, but you also like the music they play. Your hearing aids automatically adjust to only focusing on speech, but you'd also like to hear the music more as well.
Your hearing aids have essentially made the decision for you and sacrificed one for the other. Speech is clear, but your spatial awareness and feeling a part of your surroundings have been disregarded. But, what if there was a way in which you could personalise your hearing in real-time? A way in which you could hear exactly what you want to, in the moment. This is where AI comes in.
The SoundSense Learn technology, within Widex Moment hearing aids is a great example of using Artificial Intelligence to personalise your listening experience. You are offered two sound comparisons to choose from which results in a smarter hearing aid that makes clever decisions. An AI technology that creates hearing programs developed on your typical soundscape with how often you manipulate the volume and settings in commonplace environments.
Typical environments such as the sounds of your commute, office space and favourite restaurant will be enriched automatically. Or you can keep it simple and take the reins by controlling your hearing aids yourself, it’s all down to what you want.
There are also the Oticon More hearing aids, which include Deep Neural Network technology - an AI system that mirrors the way your brain functions. The idea here is that instead of using a sound processor built upon theory and guessimations - your hearing is enhanced in the most natural way. The DNN is trained to understand and recognise all common sounds down to the finest detail and how they should be heard, as well as supporting your brain.
The Artificial Intelligence of hearing aids is all based on data. You, as the wearer, are in control of the preferences set, this data is stored and then assists in training the AI technology and therefore the features you can access in the future. This personalised information is then used to make better decisions that offer you the best sound in various hearing scenarios you might have struggled with in the past.
However, the main highlight of AI technology within hearing aids is that it overcomes hearing challenges that may not be easily solved by past approaches to signal processing. With time, this is only going to get better, more efficient.
You might not need all the bells and whistles that AI-powered hearing aids bring and that's something you need to discuss with your audiologist. All the advanced feature specs might not suit your lifestyle. For example, if you live on your own or have a quiet social life with minimal noisy listening scenarios these types of hearing aids might not benefit you.
However, if you have an active lifestyle and social life, you may find investing in AI-powered hearing aids will give you access to a hugely improved hearing experience and a better scope of sound.
Like with most technology you need to think about what you actually want your hearing aids to do. Such as how do you want them to support your loss and how do you want to hear? AI within hearing aids gives you the opportunity to access more sound and make better sense of what’s going on around you. This means you are benefitting from a more personalised sound and will simply spend less time trying to work out your soundscape.
This reduces your listening effort and the fatigue that you might experience in tricky listening environments. A more natural listening effort, i.e. one that those with ‘normal’ hearing experience, means you can focus on the conversation in the coffee shop and also enjoy the buzzing atmosphere and music at the same time.
Some AI-powered hearing aids offer fitness tracking and fall detection features – sending an automated message to someone when you have a fall. Appealing to the tech-savvy and active individuals and offering peace of mind to loved ones. But, do you, as an individual, need all that? Does the device’s features out way the benefits? Do you think you’ll be paying more for the features you don’t need?
Yes, hearing aids with Artificial Intelligence are paving the way to a better quality of hearing and potentially other revolutionary breakthroughs as they adopt the processes of existing consumer technology. But it is also important to take your future needs into consideration as well as the ‘here and now’ philosophy. What do you need to be better now? I advise that you compare the features and benefits of hearing aids in the market and, along with your audiologist, choose what’s right for you.
The audiology industry introduced artificial intelligence within hearing aids fifteen years ago. Before then, various manual programs was the only difference between a hearing aid being able to work in noisy and quiet environments or not. Such as wearers being able to access directional microphones.
So in theory, AI was used when we made the switch from analogue to digital hearing aids in the mid 90's. By the mid 2000's, hearing aid manufacturers started using intelligent AI machine learning to automatically use directionality and noise management to combat challenging listening experiences in specific soundscapes.
As well as evolving the way hearing aids support hearing, artificial intelligence has set the path to a better overall user experience. For example, monitoring health fitness and wellness using sensors to track such social and activity data.
"The use of AI in hearing instruments is not only improving audibility, sound quality, and listening experience, but is being used to support overall health and give peace of mind to the user"*
Dr Dave Fabry - Chief Innovation Officer at Starkey
When interviewed**, Dr Dave Fabry stated that the focus will most likely be on increasing the computer power of hearing aid circuits in the future. Ensuring that innovation results in having more on board hearing aids as possible, whilst keeping the sound quality a priority and how the audiologist care for the patient holistically.
He also implies that artificial intelligence automation will evolve and continue to provide the optimum listening experience for those with hearing loss.
You might be thinking of upgrading your existing hearing aids or researching hearing solutions for the first time - wherever you are on your journey call us free on 0800 567 7621 with any queries and we would be delighted to help.
Related Next: Hearing Aid Technology of 2022
When we refer to a product as 'New', we mean that the product is new to the market.
When we refer to a product as 'Superseded', we mean that there is a newer range available which replaces and improves on this product.
When we refer to a product as an 'Older Model', we mean that it is has been superseded by at least two more recent hearing aid ranges.