The Center for Data Innovation spoke with Achin Bhowmik, chief technology officer of Starkey Hearing Technologies, a hearing aid company based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Bhowmik discussed how AI can improve hearing aid technology, as well how Starkey’s hearing aid uses sensors and AI to track physical and cognitive health.
Joshua New: When people think about AI, they probably imagine self-driving cars, robots, and other high-tech things, not hearing aids. How did a hearing aid company become interested in AI?
Achin Bhowmik: While the explorations on artificial intelligence have a rich history spanning several decades, recent breakthrough developments in machine learning techniques based on large datasets, coupled with advances in sensors, computing, and ubiquitous connectivity technologies, are now enabling intelligent devices and new applications that we have dreamed about for a long time!
Bill Austin, the founder and CEO for Starkey Hearing Technologies, has long had a vision that hearing aids would transform into a gateway to health and wellness, and help enhance human communications, in addition to helping people hear better. The technologies are now at a point where we can bring this vision to reality.
In my prior role as the vice president and general manager for the perceptual computing group at Intel, I had the opportunity to lead the development of natural sensing and artificial intelligence technologies to help computers and machines become intelligent and interactive, by sensing and understanding the world. As the chief technology officer and executive vice president of engineering at Starkey, I now have the exciting opportunity to tap into the same technologies to help enhance the human perception, our abilities to sense and understand the world better! We have an amazing team of engineers, who have moved at an astonishing pace to use advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to reinvent the hearing aids with Livio AI.
New: Can you explain everything the Livio AI hearing aid can do?
Bhowmik: First and foremost, Livio AI is a best-in-class hearing aid. With real-time, ear-to-ear communication, along with spatial and binaural signal processing, these are the best sounding and performing devices that we have ever produced. With built-in, ultra-low energy Bluetooth radios, Livio AI devices connect with smartphones, stream phone calls and music with battery life of up to one week. Livio AI accessories allow users to stream directly from the TV or devices like Amazon Alexa directly into their hearing aids. Remote microphones also help people hear conversations and understand speech in noisy environments.
Livio AI is the world’s first multi-function and multi-purpose hearing aid with embedded sensors and artificial intelligence. The devices track the wearer’s physical fitness, measuring steps, activity, and movements using the onboard sensors. It also tracks cognitive activities based on hearing aid usage, social engagements, and active listening metrics determined using machine learning techniques.
Coming soon, Livio AI will be the first-ever hearing aid with built-in fall detection capabilities. If the wearer experiences a fall, the devices will automatically detect it and send alert messages to pre-selected numbers via the smartphone to which it is connected.
Livio AI is also the first hearing aid that provides in-ear language translation. Take the example of an English-speaking tourist who is wearing Livio AI devices and visiting Paris. While asking a question to a native French speaker, the wearer can simply ask the question in English. The Thrive App accompanying Livio AI would display the question in French, which the native speaker can read and answer in French. Livio AI would play the answer into the ears of the wearer, but in English! We currently support 27 languages.
New: I’ve heard a lot of companies make the claim that their phones or earbuds or other devices could do that kind of fast, in-ear translation, but most have not lived up to the hype. How does this work?
Bhowmik: This does sound like “science fiction.” I like to think that our job is to remove the “fiction” from “science fiction.” The unprecedented progress in artificial intelligence in recent years is now allowing super-human capabilities for applications such as understanding visual images and spoken words. That includes translating between languages in near real-time.
We are tapping into the distributed transduction and computing resources [using multiple computing resources to process data] between the hearing aids, the smartphones, and the cloud to achieve both the accuracies and latencies required for this application.
New: The Livio AI can gather a lot of data about a wearer. Have you been able to learn anything interesting from this data, or is it too early to tell?
Bhowmik: The data is key to developing new features using machine learning and artificial intelligence. We have built the capabilities based on sophisticated sensors and data analytics. We continue to develop new capabilities and features which will be introduced in our future products.
New: As this kind of technology improves, I’m having a hard time imagining major, innovative changes. Of course I would expect component sizes to get more compact and more efficient, for example, but I can’t imagine what another jump as big as going from a “regular hearing aid” to a hearing aid that can translate languages and detect falls would look like. Do you see any more of those kind of major changes coming down the line?
Bhowmik: With Livio AI, we have taken a bold move to redefine the hearing aid. Besides helping our users hear better, these devices are helping them live better as well. Users can track physical and cognitive health with embedded sensors and artificial intelligence, translate foreign languages and coming soon, detect falls. I compare this with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, which redefined the phone and made it into a multi-purpose device.
As exciting as it already is, Livio AI is the first step in our journey towards revolutionizing the hearing aid. We are turning the hearing aids into a gateway to health, enhancing human communications, and helping people live better more fulfilled lives!