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AI headphones ensure that your conversation partners can be heard clearly at crowded parties

AI headphones ensure that your conversation partners can be heard clearly at crowded parties

US researchers are taking noise-cancelling headphones – with the help of artificial intelligence – to the next level.

Noise canceling headphones are a real solution for many people. Whether you’re on a crowded train or an open office; With the headphones on, all ambient noise disappears. But sometimes there are also sounds in that environment that you want to hear. Like your birthday colleague shouting from the cafeteria that there is cake. Or the train driver who announces that the train you just sat on will not stop at your final destination. But it’s proven very difficult to design noise-cancelling headphones that allow certain sounds — relevant to you — to pass through.

Smart headphones
A new study could change that. Because scientists have now developed an artificial intelligence system that ensures that by simply looking at someone for a few seconds, headphones cancel out all other sounds and only allow the sound made by the other person to pass through. It’s especially useful at crowded parties or other crowded places where it may be difficult to hear someone talking because of all the noise generated around you.

“We tend to think of AI today as online chatbots that answer questions,” says researcher Shyam Gollakota. “But in this project we use artificial intelligence to adapt the auditory perception of a person wearing headphones based on their preferences. Using our devices, you can now hear one speaker speaking clearly, even if you are in a noisy environment where many other people are also speaking.”

How it works?
In their study, the researchers used regular headphones already available in stores. They equipped them with small microphones. When the headphone wearer sees someone speaking and wants to hear them, all they have to do is turn their head toward that person and press the button. The sound waves of the person speaking are then picked up by microphones and sent to an artificial intelligence system built into the headphones by the researchers. In a very short time this system “learns” to recognize the voice of a conversation partner and can then cut out all ambient noise, except for this voice. The system, as it were, clings to the voice of the conversation partner and continues to transmit it to the headphone wearer, even if, for example, he starts moving across a crowded room with the conversation partner.

an experience
This actually works, as shown in an experiment involving 21 people. All of these people indicated that they could hear their conversation partner’s voice, filtered by the AI, almost twice as clearly as when they tried to listen to that conversation partner in a crowded room without the aid of headphones.

Anyone who can’t wait to buy headphones and be able to talk quietly to others at crowded parties should be patient a little longer. The system is not available in stores yet (at the moment). There is still some tinkering to be done. For example, it is currently only possible to make one conversation partner audible at a time. It is also true that the system still finds it difficult to filter out the voice of a conversation partner if another loud voice comes from the same direction. So there is still room for improvement. But the researchers see great potential for their system. For example, they are also currently investigating whether they can use them in earplugs and hearing aids.

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