Hear this, not that

River D'Almeida, Ph.D
The Reading Frame
Published in
3 min readMay 28, 2024

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AI system allows users to focus on a single voice in noisy environments using headphones.

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Noise-canceling headphones have become very good at making everything around you sound quiet. However, it’s still hard for researchers to figure out how to let through only the sounds you want to hear while keeping everything else quiet.

For example, the latest Apple AirPods Pro can change sound levels automatically. They can sense when you’re talking to someone and adjust the sound, but you don’t have much control over who you listen to or when it happens.

A team at the University of Washington has come up with a cool new AI system called “Target Speech Hearing” that solves this problem. Here’s how it works: When you’re wearing special headphones and you want to hear someone speak, you look at that person for a few seconds. The system then focuses on that person’s voice and cancels out all other noises around you. Even if you move around, you’ll still hear that person clearly.

This system was presented at a major tech conference recently, and while it’s not available to buy yet, the code for it is out there for others to use and improve on.

The AI in this system is different from the usual chatbots that answer questions online. Instead, it changes what you hear based on your preferences. So if you’re in a noisy place…

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River D'Almeida, Ph.D
The Reading Frame

Follow me for bite-sized stories on the latest discoveries and innovations in biomedical research.