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August 23, 2004

Hearing aid extracts meaning from noise

From: Marin Independent-Journal, CA - Aug 23, 2004

One of the most challenging tasks for the hearing-impaired is communicating effectively in noisy environments.

This was made a little easier by digital hearing aids introduced in the late '90s, which used directional microphones to detect the trajectories of sounds, and compression systems to clarify them.

A new hearing aid from Oticon, the Syncro, goes a step further, incorporating artificial intelligence software.

The hearing aid, which comes in a variety of shapes and colors and costs $2,000 to $3,000, uses an algorithm to adapt to the wearer's environment by constantly adjusting its digital sound processor's signal-to-noise ratio.

The Syncro's software aims to mimic natural hearing, in which the brain is constantly scanning for meaningful sounds and screening out noise.

Beyond the algorithm, the Syncro contains customized listening-assistance software for use when listening to such things as amplified voices or music or a movie.

The only caveat is that these programs, which can be switched on by pressing a button on the hearing aid, seem to be oriented toward predictable auditory situations.

Canceling out the noise of screaming children at the beach so you can process the calming sounds of the waves will still be an achievement of mind over matter.

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