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July 25, 2004

'Intelligent' hearing aid assessed in trials

From: The Age, Australia - Jul 25, 2004

By Julia Medew
July 25, 2004

Hearing impaired Australians are testing the world's first artificially intelligent hearing aid, which can imitate the human brain's ability to make decisions about sound.

Michael Gordon, chief audiologist for Oticon - the Danish company that developed the device - said about 40 Australians were wearing the Syncro, which uses artificial intelligence to make sound decisions on behalf of the user.

The device embraces two forms of new technology: voice priority processing and multiband directional adaptive microphones, which have the ability to eliminate and follow multiple sounds simultaneously, whereas other hearing aids can eliminate only one sound at a time.

"It does things that are perceived to be human in nature. It's able to process many factors in parallel, which is like having multiple computers lined up side by side to decide the best outcome at any given moment," Mr Gordon said.

"It monitors things like voices in different directions.

"For instance, it will decide who the most prominent speaker is and focus the microphone in that person's direction . . . It's also the only hearing aid to eliminate wind disturbance." AdvertisementAdvertisement

Melbourne-based tester Geoffrey Bartlett, who has suffered hearing loss for nearly 20 years, said he was hearing more sounds every day.

"Simple things like the sound of my feet on the floor," he said.

However, Mr Bartlett said the main improvement had been his ability to follow conversation in noisy environments.

Deputy director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Cochlear Implant and Hearing Aid Innovation, Harvey Dillon, said the Syncro was an advance in hearing-aid technology, setting a new worldwide standard.

However, Mr Dillon said that, while the technology was getting smarter, there might be a day when it was not needed.

"Scientists have managed to grow hair cells in chickens, so the time will come when hearing loss can be reversed with genetics and drugs."

Copyright © 2004. The Age Company Ltd.