This hearing aid will read your brain to help you understand what’s being said

hearing aid mind reading image
Aminah Mohd Idris/EyeEm/Getty Images
Aminah Mohd Idris/EyeEm/Getty Images

One common complaint from people who wear a hearing aid is that, while they can hear speech, they are unable to make out its meaning. That is because, while the two things are related, hearing and understanding aren’t the same thing. A new technique developed by researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium, in collaboration with the University of Maryland, may offer an alternative solution, however.

They have developed an automatic test involving an EEG brain cap, in which scientists can look at a person’s brainwaves to see not only whether they have heard a particular sound, but whether they have actually understood it. The test involves using 64 electrodes to measure a patient’s brainwaves while they listen to a sentence. Based on the brain waveform response, this can then be used to reveal whether or not a patient understands what has been said to them.

“Our method is independent of the listener’s state of mind,” Jonas Vanthornhout, one of the researchers on the project, told Digital Trends. “Even if the listener doesn’t pay attention, we can measure speech understanding. We can do this because we directly measure speech understanding from the brain. We reconstruct the speech signals from your brainwaves. When the reconstruction succeeds, this means that you have understood the message. When the reconstruction fails, you didn’t understand the message. Our method will allow for a more accurate diagnosis of patients who cannot actively participate in a speech understanding test because they’re too young, for instance, or because they’re in a coma.”

hearing aid mind reading eeg photo understanding test

At present, this is just a neat tech demo. However, as Vanthornhout suggests, long-term, this be used to create some fascinating consumer-facing products. Imagine, for example, smart hearing aids or cochlear implants which adjust their signal based on how well you are understanding a particular speaker. The technology could also decrease the screening time for hearing loss. In addition, we would be fascinated to see whether this has any application within education, to discover whether learners are understanding the words they hear in class. (Although apparently it can not be used to test a deep understanding of course material.)

“We are currently mapping the effects of attention on speech understanding,” Vanthornhout continued. “In order to make our method more clinically relevant, we are also validating it in a population of hearing aid users, cochlear implant users, and in multiple age groups. We are also investigating how the different parts of the brain contribute to speech understanding.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology.

Home Theater

GoPro changed how we watch. Now Jabra wants to change how we listen

Jabra and Red Bull spent two years developing the perfect action microphone, aiming to capture the sounds of athletes without wind or background noise. Here’s how the game-changing tech works, and where you’ll hear it in the future.
Home Theater

How to buy speakers: A beginner’s guide to home audio

From the difference between bookshelf speakers and monitors to the proper way to audition, our ultimate speaker buying guide has all the information you need to create your own home audio nirvana.
Emerging Tech

Curious how A.I. 'brains' work? Here's a super-simple breakdown of deep learning

What is deep learning? A branch of machine learning, this field deals with the creation of neural networks that are modeled after the brain and adept at dealing with large amounts of human-oriented data, like writing and voice commands.
Gaming

As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.
Emerging Tech

Ekster 3.0 lets you ask, ‘Alexa, where did I leave my wallet?’

Ekster's newest smart wallet is its best yet. It's slimmer than ever, boasts a neat card-dispensing mechanism, and will even let you know where it is, thanks to smart speaker integration.
Emerging Tech

Johns Hopkins’ lab-grown human retina could lead to big insights

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University have successfully grown human retina tissue from scratch in a lab. The work could help with the development of new therapeutics related to eye diseases.
Emerging Tech

Light-swallowing room promises Call of Duty fans the blackest of ops

What's it like to be in a room fully painted with the world's darkest material, Vantablack? The makers of one of the year's top video games teamed up with Vantablack scientists to find out.
Wearables

Skydio’s self-flying drone now has an Apple Watch app for flight prep

Skydio's clever R1 autonomous drone now has its own Apple Watch app, making flight preparations simpler than ever. The $2,000 flying machine is now also selling at its first retail outlet — Apple Stores in North America.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

Scientists created a condom that self-lubricates during sex. You’re welcome

Researchers from Boston University have invented a special coating for condoms which make them respond to bodily fluids by becoming more slippery. Here's how their new breakthrough works.
Emerging Tech

You’re so vein: Palm-based biometric system could help confirm your identity

Move over, Face ID! The next biometric security systems could rely on analyzing the unique vein patterns in your palm print. Here are some of the ways the technology could prove useful.
Emerging Tech

For only $4,950, you can get jetpack lessons from the world’s only instructor

Have you ever dreamed of flying using a jetpack? JetPack Aviation founder -- and the world's only qualified jetpack teacher -- David Mayman is now offering a day of flight instruction.
Emerging Tech

Biologists have found a hormone that could make space farming possible

Researchers have shown how space farming may be possible. By encouraging plants to excrete a certain hormone, they’ve demonstrated that crops can thrive despite challenging conditions, such as low-nutrient soil and microgravity.
Emerging Tech

Keep your holiday gift list high tech and under budget with these gadgets

Modern technology doesn't always come cheap, but there plenty of premium devices that don't carry a premium price. Whether you're looking for a streaming device or a means of capturing photos from above, our list of the best tech under $50…