When someone mentions artificial intelligence (AI), it may conjure thoughts of your favorite sci-fi movie. But these days, AI is more science than fiction. This is particularly true when it comes to hearing aids. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all hearing aids that simply increase the volume of sounds around you. Modern-day, high-end hearing aids utilize AI.
What is artificial intelligence?
AI is a form of technology that uses complex algorithms to generate new results from inputs of data. In this way, AI algorithms engage in a kind of learning, aptly called “machine learning.” Once the algorithm is working properly, there’s no need to “program” the AI to generate each individual result.
In the case of hearing aids, AI algorithms can help your hearing aids adjust to your personal needs based on your behaviors, lifestyle, habits, and degree of hearing loss. This makes your hearing aid more effective at improving your hearing. In other words, your hearing aid will become more responsive and more effective.
How does AI help hearing aids work better?
This might feel a little abstract at first. After all, hearing aids seem to have a pretty straightforward function. How can adding AI to the mix improve things? Well, you know that row of big dials of switches that people use to mix music in recording studios? (You’ve probably seen them in movies.) Your hearing aid has one of those! (It’s tiny.) Adjusting these settings can provide better quality sound. AI-powered hearing aids move these digital dials and switches automatically, improving the way you hear without any effort on your part.
These smart devices use a deep neural network to imitate human brain responses. Because of this, these hearing aids react in real-time to situations without being programmed to deal with them.
This may sound like space-age science, but it’s the same basic technology that allows streaming services to suggest programming based on your viewing history. AI is also found in cars and the emails auto-sorted into your inbox. These devices become more adept at making correct decisions the more you use them.
New advances in AI hearing aids
These days, hearing aids are incorporating several brand new advances in AI to help you hear even better. Some of the best examples include the following:
- Noisy room filters: New AI algorithms can help to filter out room noise in a variety of loud or echo-prone locations. Cross talk, for example, can often be hard on a hearing aid. But with an AI filtering out non-essential information, you’ll be able to hear more clearly what the person across from you is saying–even in a crowded or noisy environment.
- Acoustic environment classification: Every room you walk into has its own unique acoustic properties. Some of those properties are good for your hearing aids; some are bad for your hearing aids. With AI technology, your hearing aid can effectively make automatic adjustments that allow you to hear better in almost any environment.
- Helping you hear through facemasks: During the pandemic, everyone was masking up,which was good, but definitely made conversations with a hearing aid more challenging. AI algorithms can automatically amplify those voices behind the facemask, helping those with hearing aids hear better and stay safe can both happen at the same time.
- Edge mode: This is a user activated, AI assist mode. Essentially, when you have a hard time hearing, you can activate something called Edge Mode. This then activates the AI algorithm and the algorithm will get to work trying to make your hearing clearer.
Hearing aid manufacturers and scientists are constantly developing new hearing aid technologies–so this may be just the tip of the iceberg.
AI for the field of audiology
These days, AI has kind of become something of a buzzword. Everyone’s heard it, which is good–but the trouble is that AI does different things depending on the contexts. So, what does AI mean for the field of audiology?
First, it means that researchers are looking for ways to make hearing aids even more useful to patients. This research includes new technologies, such as deep neural networks and machine learning. But it’s not just hearing aids. In the future, AI may be able to help with diagnosing hearing loss–or even helping patients prevent future hearing loss.
As the technology grows and becomes more reliable, patients can expect to see artificial intelligence in more of their devices.
The benefits of AI-assisted hearing aids
Unlike some other industries, AI is not being incorporated into hearing aids just because it’s the hot new thing. These machine learning algorithms offer some significant benefits to patients. Among those benefits are the following:
- Health tracking and fall prevention: If you happen to fall while you’re wearing your hearing aids, your AI-assisted devices may be able to detect the significance and severity of your tumble. (In some cases, these hearing aids may be programmed to automatically alert authorities or loved ones in the event of a severe fall.) AI can also make your health data easier to interpret, helping you know when you should be moving more or eating better or just drinking more water.
- Helping you listen to devices: Microphones from cell phones, speaker phones, televisions, and other myriad devices can cause feedback in your hearing aids. Machine learning algorithms can help filter out these feedback, so all you hear is the sound you actually want to hear.
- Social engagement: studies have found that those who wear AI-assisted hearing aids are more successful when it comes to managing their social engagement. This is probably because the speech they hear is clearer in a wider variety of settings. That said, it’s not entirely clear that AI is the deciding factor in keeping your social life afloat. Likely, it simply helps those that are already social better maintain their relationships.
- You have more control over how you hear: Many AI-assisted hearing devices give you the option to turn those algorithms on or off. This means hearing aid wearers will have more control over the quality of sound they hear. And this usually translates into hearing better more often.
What this means for patients
These benefits often translate into real-world advantages for those with these AI-assisted hearing aids. Imagine you are having a conversation at a party. An older hearing aid would make everything louder. This isn’t helpful because the conversation you actually care about will get drowned out by background noise. With AI, the hearing aid can listen to the noise around you and react the way your brain would, dulling background noise and focusing on your friends’ voices.
AI learns to recognize sounds and creates a location-by-location program. These programs help when you return to a specific location or sound profile. Other hearing aids with AI are programmed with everyday sounds in order to better identify and amplify important sounds.
Some of the other practical advantages of AI-assisted hearing aids include the following:
- You won’t be frustrated because you can’t hear (at least, not as often).
- Your quality of life will improve.
- Your brain will experience a lower cognitive load.
In other words, it’ll be easier to follow along with your favorite shows, hang out with your favorite people, and take care of your favorite brain.
Cost vs. reward
There was a time when AI was not available in the vast majority of hearing aids due to the costs involved. After all, the device itself must perform some intense calculations (an algorithm, after all, is essentially a very fancy math problem). However, in part because of the prevalence of the technology, prices for AI hearing devices are starting to go down.
This doesn’t mean that every hearing aid you want will have AI–or even that those hearing aids will necessarily be less expensive in the near future. Obviously, patients will still have to make important decisions. However, it does mean that these AI-assisted features are becoming more common and more widely available.
Deciding what’s best for you
For someone who lives alone and doesn’t go out much, hearing aids with AI may not be worth the extra cost. To someone who is socially active and finds herself in situations with many competing sounds, however, it makes a huge difference.
Hearing aids with AI are also useful for someone who is quickly worn out in social situations where the chore of keeping up with conversations using a traditional hearing aid is exhausting. AI-powered hearing aids reduce the listener’s fatigue and make social situations more enjoyable. AI technology can also send alerts to your phone when the doorbell rings, alert others you have fallen and track your steps. As technology and AI improve, hearing aids will continue to improve, as well.
Want to see how AI hearing aids can work for you? Find a provider.