We can all make sense of how fast new technologies evolve around us and that this accellerating technological change will impact us all one way or the other.
You may argue that - as Niels Bohr said - predictions are difficult, particularly about the future. But technological developments are often more predictable than one might believe, because they follow exponential growth curves.
So which technological developments are the ones which will have such a big influence on the audiology of the future?
Here is our best guess:
1. Personal digital assistants
Amazon’s Alexa og Apple’s Siri are well known and rapidly developing due to breakthroughs in the underlying technology: Artificial Intelligence. You may well imagine that we all soon will use some “digital butlers” for many daily routines and purposes. Imagine, what it might mean for future Hearing Instrument users, if they have such a digital assistant in their ear always available and helping them to make the best out of their daily life; Being able to communicate and receive all the advice and assistance they ask for.
2. Data is called the new “crude oil”
Big Data, the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence, is a game changer. Hearing instruments of the future will be in a “pole position” for sensing our bio data. In earlier Eriksholm Research Centre reports, we talked about the progress in integrating sensors like EEG, pulse & temperature measurement, skin resistance, accelerometer, fNIRS and more into the hearing instrument. These body worn sensors will help to constantly adapt the hearing instruments to the needs of their users. Together with data from the hearing care professional, medical records etc. they will enable a true personalisation of Hearing Healthcare Services around the clock. Data fusion in a “sky clinic” will enable services of completely new quality, allow prediction and prevention of deseases and thereby enable us to stay fit and healthy longer.
Hearables are hearing instruments which don’t serve a medical purpose, like compensating for hearing impairment. Hearables will be used as e.g. the personal butler I mentioned above. They will have “augmented reality” functions, like the famous Bablefish, doing synchroneous, instant translation. Hearables are assumed to have a growth potential to up to hundreds of million devices per year. Some are considering them a competition for hearing instruments, because they will automatically adapt to their users and thereby do a hearing loss compensation without the user even being aware of it. However, they will also create new opportunities, like removing the often quoted stigma of hearing instruments. It will become “cool” to use these hearables for all kinds of purposes.
4. Moore’s law
Probably the most well known of all growth curves of technology. The observation Gordon Moore of Intel did in 1975 was that computer power was doubling roughly every two years. It has since often been declared that this development will come to an end; but still it continues. It will give us the computer power to miniaturize hearing instruments and at the same time to increase their sensor functions far beyond todays imagination.
5. More for less
Healthcare systems all over the world are under heavy cost pressure. Aging societies and new medical treatments are driving the costs up. This leads to the need to strengthen prevention, helping people with chronic conditions to stay active and independent longer, and to follow up on outcome measures. These requirements again lead to increased need for body worn sensors, which enable us to collect bio data for making predictions on health conditions and measuring outcome of treatments. Increasingly healthcare providers will demand proof of efficacy of expensive treatments.
Here again Hearing Instruments as body worn sensors will be in a pole position for providing such services.
6. Brain research
The US and EU are spending 2 b USD on brain research. China reported the launch of an even more ambitious program with 3 b USD volume. These programs aim at basic research for better understanding how the human brain works and at the same time at applied science in order to identify treatment paths for all kinds of brain disorders. This comprises of exciting research fields like sensory substitution, Human Intranet and Brain-Computer Interface. It is amazing how plastic the human brain is. It was e.g. shown that blind patients can “hear to see”, by creating a kind of “SONAR” sound, which translates a visual input into sound patterns. Within hours of training the brain the blind persons adapted so that their visual cortex reacted. They could literally see their surroundings via this acoustic pattern. Knowing that we indeed hear with our brain, this research in the human brain opens up many fascinating opportunities of future treatment of hearing impairments of all kinds.
As these six trends are Megatrends and quite robust it is not that difficult to “connect the dots” and create a vision for how hearing healthcare may look like in 10 years. It will become much more Personalized, Predictive, Preventive , Participatory - the 4 Ps of healthcare.
These visions are the driving force for our research here at Eriksholm. Diving into the subsequent chapters, you will se how we translate this into exciting research in our three areas of Augmented Hearing, Cognitive Hearing Science, and eHealth.
The future is what we make of it!
- Uwe Hermann