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Driving The News

University of Washington researchers have developed an AI system called “Target Speech Hearing” (TSH) that allows headphone users to selectively listen to a specific person in a noisy environment. By looking at the desired speaker for 3-5 seconds, the system learns their vocal patterns and cancels out all other sounds, playing back only the enrolled speaker’s voice in real-time.

Why It Matters

This technology has the potential to significantly improve the listening experience for headphone users in noisy environments, such as crowded spaces or busy workplaces. It could also have applications in hearing aids, allowing users to focus on specific speakers without the distraction of background noise.

How It Works

  1. The user, wearing off-the-shelf headphones with microphones, taps a button while looking at the desired speaker for 3-5 seconds.
  2. The speaker’s voice reaches the microphones on both sides of the headset simultaneously (with a 16-degree margin of error).
  3. The headphones send the signal to an on-board embedded computer, where machine learning software learns the speaker’s vocal patterns.
  4. The system latches onto the enrolled speaker’s voice and continues to play it back to the listener, even as they move around.

The Big Picture

This research builds on the team’s previous work on “semantic hearing,” which allowed users to select specific sound classes (e.g., birds or voices) to hear while canceling other sounds. The TSH system currently has limitations, such as enrolling only one speaker at a time and requiring a clear line of sight to the speaker during enrollment. However, the team is working on expanding the system to earbuds and hearing aids in the future.

Most Interesting Idea

The most intriguing aspect of this research is the potential to change how we perceive and interact with our auditory environment. By giving users the ability to selectively focus on specific speakers or sounds, this technology could transform the way we communicate and engage with others in noisy settings. It also highlights the growing role of AI in modifying and enhancing our sensory experiences based on individual preferences.

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