Smart hearing aid reads brain waves to amplify single voices at parties

Edwina Langley
1 / 2
Smart hearing aid reads brain waves to amplify single voices at parties

If you still struggle to hear people at parties, in spite of wearing a hearing aid, researchers at Columbia University may have found a solution to your problem.

A new smart hearing device monitors brain waves enabling it to detect which voice the listener is most interested in, and amplify just that voice.

It is hoped the new design will help those hard of hearing hear better in circumstances when there is more than one person speaking at a time, like at a party: a situation known as the 'cocktail party conundrum'.

Because while conventional hearing aids can reduce background noise, when it comes to speakers, current models amplify all audible voices. The new hearing aid uses AI to be more specific, to track the sound waves the listener's brain is most closely tuned into so it can turn the volume up on them.

As revealed in the journal Science Advances, the technology uses an algorithm to firstly separate out all voices of those speaking. It then compares individual sound waves to the brain waves of the listener. Those which most closely resemble the listener's brain activity are perceived to be the ones the listener is most interested in hearing and the device therefore amplifies the sound.

So far it has only been tested on a group of epilepsy patients who have undergone brain surgery and have electrodes already implanted in their brains for the analysis of seizure activity; which therefore makes their brain waves 'readable' to the aid.

However, the researchers - led by Nima Mesgarani - are hoping that through the use of scalp electrodes (where the device would be affixed to the ear or scalp) users' brain waves will still be able to be detected, thus opening up the aid to a wider audience.