(Tip: Think of it as a ‘co-pilot’)
By Sheila C. Serup, MBA
For Canadians with hearing loss, artificial intelligence (AI) is already all around us and is significantly improving our hearing and connection with each other in many ways. We are using AI every day as its rapid rise is exponential.
Already AI is enhancing auto-captioning, expanding the capacity of hearing aids and assistive devices, and providing the tools for future communications such as transitioning sign language to text and to speech.
What is AI and What is it Not?
How, specifically, it will increase accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities is not well understood.
Currently 1.5 billion people worldwide live with hearing loss. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, this number will increase to 2.5 billion. Ensuring that all people with hearing loss have access to hearing support, tools and resources is beginning to correlate to developments in technology and equipment with AI.
At a recent world-wide conversation, held Sept. 20th and 21st, by the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), Sonia Cooper, Assistant General Counsel for Microsoft, debunked what generative AI is and what is not. Generative AI is:
· A predictive algorithm that does math,
· A tool by humans, a ‘co-pilot’, and
· A process to make knowledge more accessible and useful.
She explained that generative AI is not:
· A copy machine,
· A database, nor
· Capable of applying judgement or having human cognition.
Speaker after speaker during the WIPO conversation stressed the ‘co-pilot’ aspect of AI. The latest technological developments found in hearing aids for example support the ‘co-pilot’ model.
How AI is Expanding the Processing Capacity of Hearing Devices
“Hearing aids, like all technological devices, are advancing at a staggering rate,” observes audiologist Dr. Carrie Scarff, lead audiologist at her clinic Audiology Innovations based in Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta.
“Current hearing aids use aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their processing of the user’s sound environment,” she explains. “They ‘listen’ to your environment and can determine if you’re in a restaurant or a coffee shop, an echoey lecture hall, or walking in your dog park with plenty of dogs barking in the background for example. They use their immense computational power to monitor and then compare information to millions of sound examples. They then process these sounds for you almost instantaneously and provide more selective enhanced sounds to your ears and brain. The goal is to improve your ability to detect important signals, including speech and increasing your understanding in a variety of listening situations including noise.”
Result of medical research drives the development of new hearing aids. Here are two examples of hearing aids with AI:
· Starkey’s Live AI hearing aids can detect when a wearer falls and can send an alert message to up to three people. The alert message includes the GPS location of the wearer. People with mild hearing loss are three times more likely to have a history of falling than their peers of normal hearing, according to the US National Council on Aging.
· Oticon’s More is developed on the premise that we hear with our brains and not our ears. This hearing aid is designed to provide the brain with the more relevant sounds it needs to make better sense of sound and includes technology to capture more of nature’s sounds.
Individuals with hearing loss today have a wider range of hearing aids than ever before to choose from that meets their hearing needs and goals.
Dr. Scarff notes that “advanced technology is truly wonderful, however it is only as good to you as how well you are able to make use of it.”
“This underscores the importance of working with a thorough hearing care clinic which can provide information and education about how to use your hearing aids effectively, as well as how to utilize other supports for your hearing such as communication strategies and listening tips.”
“Artificial Intelligence in hearing aids also offers access to technological features that can make our lives easier, such as linking us up seamlessly with Bluetooth devices and to ‘the cloud’. This can improve the ease of how we can work with our technological systems in our world at work and home, including for remote communication, safety applications, home entertainment, fitness and health metric tracking to name a few examples. These useful technological features that we have access to in AI based hearing aids, ultimately gives us a bit of a ‘leg up’ on those without hearing aids, which I believe will continue to help to reduce the stigma of hearing loss,” states Dr. Scarff.
For students in school, there are a range of assistive devices utilizing AI and wireless remote connectivity that provide clear and direct access to the voices of teachers, classmates and friends. These systems help students manage noise, reverberation, and distance in a classroom. These systems can also be used for other applications such as meetings.
How AI is enhancing Speech-to-Text
Since the Covid pandemic began in 2020, video-conference platforms such as Zoom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, etc. had limited auto-captioning or automated speech recognition. The speech-to-text functionality was rudimentary and had a high error rate. Now auto-captioning has improved significantly, due to AI tools which recognize words in audio sounds and transcribes these into words, phrases, and sentences.
To provide an idea of the ways AI is being used to enhance captions and subtitles, there is a growing toolbox of AI caption generators or tools for video content. If you are producing your own videos, AI can assist in converting the speech to captions. To help convert subtitles from English into other languages, Netflix, for example, has developed what they call a proof-of-concept AI model which can automatically simplify and translate subtitles into other languages.
Please note: While AI tools and processes are being further developed to reduce the error rate in auto-captioning, it is always best to use a real-time captioner to get the correct information for important subjects such as medical, educational, legal, employment and personal.
Sign Language to Text and Speech and other Future Developments
A new Google start-up called Sign-Speak is currently under development to convert sign language to text and then to speech. This project aims to provide businesses with an automated solution to provide services to employees and customers who are deaf.
In conclusion, AI-powered tools and processes can serve as a ‘co-pilot’ to assist individuals with hearing loss to realize their aspirations. It provides intuitive and inclusive communication experiences and is empowering for many people in diverse ways.
How the CHHA Foundation Serves All Canadians with Hearing Loss
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association Foundation (CHHAF) was established to recognize the legacies of its supporters in the form of an endowment base, and to ensure strategic fund development and wealth management to support the objectives of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, the national organization as well as its chapters, branches, and networks.
It is set up as a Canadian charity and not-for-profit organization. It has its own Board of Directors, and it operates independently from CHHA.
This vibrant Foundation actively invests and manages legacy gifts by donors. The CHHA Foundation spends only the income on its investment, rather than the actual capital from donations. With their gifts to the CHHA Foundation, donors are, in effect, establishing a perpetual legacy through their donations. The interest from their capital provides income to support CHHA activities.
The CHHA Foundation is positioned to accept and manage not only money, but also other forms of donations such as life insurance, real property, and stocks and bonds. The CHHA Foundation ensures that bequeaths contributed by donors reflect their desires to support Canadians with hearing loss on their journeys for self-determination and success.
Currently, its Board of Directors is composed of: Carole Willans (President), Leon Mills (Vice-President), Christopher Sutton (Treasurer), Anne Follows (Secretary), Leslee Scott (Director), and Bowen Tang (Director).
It is expected that the next Annual General Meeting (AGM) of its members will be held in November or December 2023. To become a member of the Foundation, the applicant simply sends an email to the President (email@example.com) briefly explaining the reasons for wanting to join; then the request is put to a vote by the Foundation Board. This is an election year, so an election will be taking place during this year’s AGM relating to the six positions on the Board. The current President has announced that after serving on the Board for the better part of a decade, she will not be running for re-election.
The writer invites conversation, ideas and comments on how AI-powered tools and processes have helped your hearing. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheila Serup of Calgary, Alberta is a CHHA volunteer whose second book, Found Fragments: Stories of Courage and Valour, was published this summer.