AI could revolutionize noise-cancelling headphones in the best way possible

Jitendra Soni
Generic headphones

New AI tech could potentially revolutionize noise-cancelling headphones by isolating specific sounds, allowing you to choose which noises to hear, and which to block out completely.

A research team at the University of Washington claims that they’ve developed an AI technology that can help filter out specific noises while using noise cancelling headphones.

The “Semantic Hearing” system is smart enough to tell between the sound of a crying baby, a car horn, or a chirping bird. It does its job so accurately that you can continue listening to the bird’s chip while muffling the other polluting sounds.

Designed to be used in noise-canceling headphones, Semantic Hearing will require the headphones to send the sample sounds to the paired smartphone. Then, users can choose the sounds they want to allow in 20 categories, the study claims.

The research team feels that most noise-canceling headphones cancel most noises. However, there could be some sounds that you’d still like to listen to. The way that the AI works is that they “run on a neural network on the smartphone to extract the sounds of interest and in real-time play it back into the ear through the headphones.”

The system has been tested in various scenarios and locations like offices, parks, and busy streets, and aside from some similar-sounding voices, it has been able to filter out different sounds effectively.

Since Artificial Intelligence models require massive processing power, Semantic Hearing uses your smartphone to run the neural network itself.

Advanced tech or just a gimmick?

Best noise-canceling headphones

While this concept sounds like it beats the logic of noise-canceling headphones explicitly designed to remove background noise, it might be a useful feature for many.

This unique blend of noise-cancellation and deep learning could find a use case with users who might want to be aware of their environment, or parents who want to block out street traffic, but may want to know when their newborn wakes up.

If you’re an ornithologist, you might want to use a Semantic Hearing-powered headset to remove the sound of children playing in the park and enjoy the chirping birds around you. But, maybe that’s a little bit too niche for most people. Either way, it just seems like a matter of time before this tech makes its way to consumer-level products.

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About The Author

Jitendra loves writing about tech, especially smartphones. He has almost 10 years of experience. He spearheaded the TechRadar India editorial operations and has written for TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Free Press Journal, Mobile Scout, IB Times Singapore, Indulge Express, and more. He can be reached at