Can You Hear Me Now? Try These Headphones

When you are young, you take it for granted that you can pick out a voice in a crowded room or a factory floor. But as you get older, your hearing often gets to the point where a noisy room merges into a mishmash of sounds. University of Washington researchers have developed what they call Target Speech Hearing. In plain English, it is an AI-powered headphone that lets you look at someone and pull their voice out of the chatter. For best results, however, have to enroll their voice first, so it wouldn’t make a great eavesdropping device.

If you want to dive into the technical details, their paper goes into how it works. The prototype uses a Sony noise-cancelling headset. However, the system requires binaural microphones so additional microphones attach to the outside of the headphones.

Given training data, we wonder if traditional correlation methods would be just as effective. In other words, you could use facial recognition to figure out who’s talking and pull their voice out using more traditional signal processing techniques. However, this system can potentially pick up sound from unknown speakers, figuring direction from the binaural microphones, so even if the correlation method worked well on known speakers, the new system is likely superior in new situations.

There’s more to noise-cancelling headgear than you might think. Or you can just go low-tech.