Can we use Artificial Intelligence to help restore hearing to the hearing impaired?
We already do. Mechanical and electric hearing aids have been in use for centuries, dating back to the ear horn of the 19 th century. The funnel-like shaped object would simply amplify sound. Modern hearing aids work similarly, though they are much smaller and sit inside a person’s ear. A cochlear implant is essentially a hearing aid that comes in two parts—one part goes inside the ear canal, and the other is an external microphone. The implant converts sound waves into electrical impulses and sends the right ones (those that it recognizes as speech) to the brain. Cochlear implants have helped many people, even the severely deaf, lead normal lives.
The Oticon Syncro is one such device with a twist: it uses Artificial Intelligence in its advanced cochlear implant design. The ability to tell the difference between noise and spoken words is one of the first things to go as people age and begin to lose their hearing. Syncro is designed to help people discern between the two. The device tracks and enhances speech while reducing irrelevant noises. Digital hearing aids can, to a degree, adjust their performance based on the user's environment. The Syncro implant however, can be more effective because the logic circuitry built into it better imitates a human brain. It uses a digital processor to measure the effect of several possible adjustments internally, and provides the user with the best possible quality of hearing.
However, controversy arises when this technology is offered to children. The deaf community, consisting of people who have been unable to hear for a long period of time and have learned to live with their disability, are afraid that their community might completely disappear. They want to make sure that people, especially children, have an opportunity to see both ways of life and choose the one they prefer.