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Augmenting my hearing with artificial intelligence

I recently became a bionic man. I have one good ear and one bad ear as a result of flying around while suffering colds and flus over the years, and with only one good ear it makes it difficult to hear a conversation in a noisy room, so I went looking for a high-tech digital solution.

For the last couple of years I have been watching the start-up, Doppler Labs, as they developed their earbuds that were purported to have great sound, but also to enhance hearing.  This month after reading about their latest software release, I ordered a pair to try. There were three reasons I wanted to try Doppler Labs' HearOne Wireless Smart Earbuds. First because their goal was to enhance hearing for a few hundred dollars, rather than for many thousands of dollars that the hearing aid industry charges; second, they were building artificial intelligence (AI) into their earbuds; and third, I could listen to premium audio and talk on my phone with them.

When I first received the earbuds, the instructions led me through a series of hearing tests using the earbuds and my iPhone. The results were then used to adjust all sounds coming into my left and right ears so my hearing would be an enhanced, balanced and accurately augmented.  I could immediately hear many sounds around my home and office that had previously escaped me - a mixed blessing.

Here is how the earbuds work. The earbuds intercept all sound, analyze and filter it, then passes the augmented sounds to my ears in near real-time.  The results are impressive. Filters reduced or eliminated what I didn't want to hear and enhanced what I did. They also have digital noise filters for places like subways, cities, buses, restaurants, crowds, etc.,  and promise to deliver more pre-configured filters. Here is where it really gets cool. I can also geofence digital noise filters. I can apply a filter to a specific physical location and save it.  The next time I arrive at that particular destination the noise filter and sound enhancement will automatically be applied using AI.  I can walk around my neighborhood or go shopping and the sounds coming into my ears are personalized for me. Very nice! There is no need for me to accept all random sounds and noise pollution.  I can now control, eliminate or enhance sounds.  I can control, configure and augment my sound experiences.

In addition to sound filters, I can manually adjust all incoming sounds using the Doppler Labs smartphone app.  It allows me to enhance live music and other sounds to the volume and filter level that suite my preferences.  If you have kids, you never again need to hear them.

There is even more artificial intelligence. I can tap my earbuds and access the knowledge of the world through Siri and other supported AI systems.  I can now be a trivia star anywhere where I have a wireless network connection!

Nothing is perfect, however. I found two problems with the HearOne earbuds. The battery life today is only a couple of hours, although Doppler Labs said upcoming software updates will extend that.  I guess I don't need to be at a cocktail hour, longer than two anyway.  The second, is the crackle of wind in the six directional sound receivers in each earbud.  These sound receivers help you enhance sounds in front, to the side and behind you.  If you are driving a car and having a conversation with kids in the back seat, it is great to enhance the voices behind you or not, but in the wind, they crackle.  Applying the city sound filter eliminated 90% of the crackling, but more work can be done to reduce the crackling when you are jogging or walking in the breeze.

Overall, a thumbs up experience, and I am excited to add more bionics and other augmentations to my seasoned humanity.

More Stories By Kevin Benedict

Kevin Benedict serves as the Senior Vice President, Solutions Strategy, at Regalix, a Silicon Valley based company, focused on bringing the best strategies, digital technologies, processes and people together to deliver improved customer experiences, journeys and success through the combination of intelligent solutions, analytics, automation and services. He is a popular writer, speaker and futurist, and in the past 8 years he has taught workshops for large enterprises and government agencies in 18 different countries. He has over 32 years of experience working with strategic enterprise IT solutions and business processes, and he is also a veteran executive working with both solution and services companies. He has written dozens of technology and strategy reports, over a thousand articles, interviewed hundreds of technology experts, and produced videos on the future of digital technologies and their impact on industries.

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