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Look Once to Hear: How AI Headphones May Help You Converse

noise cancelling headphones

If you have trouble holding conversations in public because you can’t hear the people you are with, you’re not alone. At least 3 million Canadians struggle to hear their companions when they are out in public. While hearing aids can help, sometimes background noise is still too much for the hearing impaired. However, artificial intelligence (AI) might be giving audiologists a hand in finding a solution to not only block out background sounds but also  clearly hear conversations. Keep reading to learn more. 


A History of Noise Blocking 

The idea of blocking out noise is not new – who in history has ever wanted to listen to screaming children or roaring sabre-toothed tigers? What is new is the idea of blocking out some sounds while still being able to hear others.  

This anti-noise idea can be traced back to a 1936 patent by German scientist Paul Leug. However, it took fifty years for the technology to catch up to the idea. While many physicists, acoustic scientists, and signal processing experts explored Leug’s ideas, it was Dr. Amar Bose, of the now well-known audio system company Bose, who patented the next big anti-noise idea: noise-cancelling earphones.  


Noise-cancelling Earphones  

Bose’s earphones were first used by pilots and aircraft passengers, but within a decade, personal headphones were available commercially. They were made to improve the music listening experience by cancelling out ambient noise and improve audio quality. 


Onward Ho 

Since the first noise-cancelling headphones came out in the 1980s, the digital age has truly started, as proven by the rapid progress and developments in computing, telecommunications, connectivity, the internet, and mobile technology, and now, artificial intelligence (AI), which allows computer systems to simulate human function such as looking at a companion and clearly hearing what they say, even in a noisy room or beside a splashing water fountain 


AI and Noise-Cancelling Earphones  

In the spring of 2024, a University of Washington team announced the development of a set of noise-cancelling earphones that includes a “Target Speech Hearing” system. This AI system allows a person to look at a companion in a noisy environment for three to five seconds and then only hear that person’s voice, for all ambient noise is cancelled out. We, the audiologists and hearing aid practitioners at Calgary’s Soundwave Hearing Care, think this is fantastic and are excited to see where the technology will go. We hope it will lead to even better functioning hearing aids, and it might… 



The Washington team that developed the “Target Speech Hearing” system has provided access to their proof-of-concept device, called Look Once to Hear, so anyone can build upon the idea. Therefore, scientists, technologists, and audiologists just might be able to apply the technology to hearing aids. Imagine, being able to hold good conversations in public again without wearing anything larger than a hearing aid! 


Contact Your Calgary Audiologists  

While it’s great to dream, don’t miss out on conversations while you wait for technology to grant your wishes. Contact the audiologists and hearing specialists at Soundwave Hearing Care in Calgary, High River, and Grande Prairie for custom hearing solutions and auditory processing assessments in Calgary and around Alberta.  

All the blogs are reviewed and edited by our clinic's lead audiologist, Dr. Anne Wooliams. Dr. Woolliams is an experienced audiologist specialized in pediatric audiology, auditory processing, and tinnitus/sound sensitivity therapy. She is dedicated to providing top-notch hearing care and helping her clients improve their language and communication abilities. Dr. Woolliams' expertise in literature and linguistics, combined with her passion for helping people improve their language and communication, make her an incredibly valuable asset in the field of audiology. Learn more about Dr. Woolliams.