Like high-end earphones, an advanced hearing aid can reduce the sounds of white noise like nearby traffic, or music, so it’s easier to hear the person you’re talking to. It gets a little trickier once more than one person is speaking at a time.
You might have experienced what is referred to as the “cocktail party problem” when asking Siri a question at a gig or giving Google Home a command at a party. Researchers at Columbia University have discovered that volunteer brain waves consistently mirrored that of the person they were focusing on, even when there were other voices in the mix.
This information is proving radically important in improving the effectiveness of hearing aids. Right now researchers at Columbia are designing a new type of microphone that will boost the sounds of just a single voice. Using neural networks, speech processing algorithms will separate background noise into streams of individual voices which are then compared to the brain waves of the listener. The closest match is identified and then amplified.
The implications of this nascent technology are huge both for the hearing impaired and for those who find themselves smiling politely at house parties.