Wearable health tech to reduce hearing loss ticks many of the boxes as an ideal health tech opportunity. Hearing happens when external sound waves convert to electrical signals deciphered by the brain. Auditory data stimulus, transmission, and analysis let you tell someone you love them or warn them about a falling tree. Conventional hearing aids are common enough that wearing something in, on, or around your ears doesn’t cause much staring or interest on the part of observers.

Our brains are skilled at separating what you want to hear from the mass of noise in our world, but this remains a major challenge for hearing improvement device. Simply amplifying the noise doesn’t mean that you can hear it better. When you look at something, it’s relatively easy to focus on one part of the overall visual field. For example, watching a puck during a hockey game may be challenging but it’s possible. Imagine being able to pick out and follow the sound coming from one person in a crowded arena the same way. Some devices already do a good job of this, but they may be made even better by a better understanding of how our brains work.

The ability to isolate sounds you choose is called auditory attention encoding (AAD) and a device smart enough to do that is called a cognitive hearing aid. Researchers at Columbia Engineering who study neural network decoding of attentional selection have advanced the overall development of cognitive hearing aids. Using an admittedly invasive procedure that involved electrodes placed in different cortical areas during epilepsy surgery on neurological subjects, the researchers determined the “varying contributions of different auditory cortical areas to AAD.”

Further brain mapping and sound separation enhancement technology will hasten the day when auditory attention decoding algorithms and sensors in, on, and around the ears will be available to help us all have super-hearing.