Cambridge, UK — Researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Cambridge are developing physiologically inspired algorithms that mimic how the brain hears sound. Their goal is to improve traditional signal processing algorithms used in hearing aids and automatic speech recognition systems.

Instead of looking at the signal energy that modern hearing aids often use, the researchers are concentrating on how the brain processes sound information.

Dr Stefan Bleeck, from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR)) at the University of Southampton, is attempting to create algorithms based on neuronal responses that may give insights into how sound is coded within the brain.

Once researchers understand how sound is coded by the brain, they will then be able to select the parts of the brain that code speech and the ones that code unwanted noise. Using this information, the researchers say they will be able to resynthesize sound in hearing aids with reduced noise, yet with quality intact, thus enhancing speech intelligibility.

Today’s speech enhancement systems can reduce noise and increase speech quality, but they are less successful improving speech intelligibility, especially in noisy situations.

Bleeck explains in the University’s press release, "Today, it is still the ultimate goal for the speech signal processing community to develop speech enhancement systems that perform as well as humans in noisy situations. Normal hearing humans still easily outperform any technical system; sound processing in the brain is more successful than signal processing in silicone. A system that works as well as a human would lead to the next revolution in human communication and would greatly benefit hearing impaired people.”

Bleeck’s 5-year goal is to build a brain-inspired speech enhancement algorithm that will be able to identify sound sources and to enhance speech intelligibility. “This should be useful in everyday situations, for hearing impaired as well as normal hearing people, so that it ultimately reduces the stigma that hearing aids have today. Using this device in the future to hear better should be as normal as wearing glasses today to see better," he said.

Bleeck received funding from a Google Research Award to undertake this research with ISVR colleague Dr Matthew Wright, and Dr Ian Winter of the University of Cambridge’s Department of Physiology.

SOURCE: University of Southampton