Technology Is Beautiful, When It Works

One of my favorite sayings is “technology is wonderful when it works, when it quits working life suddenly becomes horrible. A couple of weeks ago I experienced a failure of the connection between my phone and my ears. We sent a man to the moon and recently landed an unmanned ship on Mars, but we are still unable to produce a hearing aid that works effectively. My aid is made by Siemens, a German company the size of General Electric. Their products are world renown for reliability. One of their most reliable products is jet engines. Yet, when it comes to the lowly hearing aid it lacks something. Probably because everything they make is the size of a locomotive and the hearing aid is the size of a pea. The hearing aid I currently used is a now called Signia. Siemens finally decided to break off the hearing aids from their parent company and to let it stand on its own. That is common is big business. Cut it loose and let if fly on its own.

Bluetooth technology is separate from Siemens, and most likely Siemens has a license agreement with Bluetooth to connect their hearing aids to the rest of the world and to my ears. It is Bluetooth that allows my phone to be piped into my ear. For a hearing impaired person that is a miracle. Listening to a phone conversation over a common phone or a device like the iPhone is not a pleasant experience. First, if I hold the phone too close to my ear I get a shrill feedback. Second, If I accidentally touch my cheek against the touch pad I readily disconnect myself in favor of some app on my phone. Third, phone companies today cut the amount of energy and effort it takes to transmit real sound over the airwaves. They conveniently cut frequencies that they deem unnecessary for people to hear a conversation. To a hearing impaired person these missing sounds contribute to their handicap. When I get the sound piped into my ear directly, it is a thousand times more effective. The same holds true for televisions and radios. With the Blue Tooth device sending the sound directly into my ear the experience is enjoyable. As opposed to listening to a program via tinny-television speakers into a tiny hearing aid microphone located behind my ear and then piped into my ear canal through a tiny hearing aid receiver. I love my Blue Tooth, except when it stopped working.

My trusty Bluetooth pendant has hung around my neck for three plus years without any disruption in service. Each night I plug it into a charger and in the morning I rehang it on my body. The necklace is really an antenna it uses to transmit signals. If I take the necklace off I no longer get sound piped directly into my ears. I made an appointment with my audiologist to have it fixed.

Siemens Easy Tech Pendant for Bluetooth

In the past year I have had a couple of problems with my hearing aids and have had to take them in for service. Because of COVID I could not enter the building. I called when I arrived and they came out to my car to learn what the complaint was. This time, I called thinking the routine is the same. It changed. They now allowed me to enter and I was able to sit opposite the technician and explain my problem. I asked him where Dr. Laura was. He said she no longer works for us. I know she would have been able to resolve the problem much quicker but she wasn’t there any more. Mike as he is called honestly told me he has never seen a device such as mine. After all it is three years old and technology changes rapidly. He found a number on the device and called it. Luckily, the other end knew of this model and told him it is repairable for a fortune. Visions of spending a fortune to have this device repaired and then my hearing aids crash. This is the third set I have owned and each has failed at three years and a few months. Regardless, it is only money so I went for the repair. Hopefully, the aids will last long enough to make it worthwhile.

Technology is beautiful when it works, but when it doesn’t I want to stomp on it.

What?

Today I read a short headline proclaiming that Chinese mega phone company Hua Wei is becoming the world’s leader in artificial intelligence infrastructure. Evidently, the Chinese want to know everything about you before you do. I only wish they would place particular emphasis on designing hearing aids for me that can differentiate between the noise of a crowded restaurant and the person sitting opposite me. If ever there was a need for artificial intelligence that would do it for me.

I am on my third set of Siemens hearing aids (eight years) and although I will admit they have made some progress in reliability, and in sound quality, hearing aids are still in the stone age. Siemens is the European version of General Electric, known for its advanced quality in all things electronic. When I bought my last set they changed the name of the hearing aid division from Siemens to Signia. A good move I thought, why tarnish your entire company by one poor division. Give it a new name and we dupes of the world will believe the product is better.

Ask anyone who uses hearing aids what they like about them and they will say, “I can hear.” Ask what they hate about them and they say, “I can’t hear.” The “I can’t” has to be qualified with I can’t hear in noisy environments. When I got my last set the audiologist sold me on the many wonderful ways the devices can be programmed. For instance, I have a setting for noisy environments which dulls the sound I hear. The only problem is that the AI required to separate noise from voice is still lost in China. The second setting is a super sound deadening for when I am running noisy machines in my shop. This setting is almost as good as removing the aids from my ears. A third setting trains my brain to forget I have tinitus or ringing in the ears. Basically the device plays one of six different alternate noises that are more pleasant over the top of the ringing (a form of noise cancelling). I used this setting every chance I got until I realized that the chances of killing the ringing is slim since my ears have been ringing for forty years. A few minutes of sound training a day is probably not going to shut that off.

There are a couple of things these aids do that I really like. I get the sound from the TV piped right into my ears. I like this so much that I have the TV on mute because it is easier to hear through the aids. I can also listen to the radio the same way. I need a smart phone and a radio app, but the bluetooth feature will send the sound right into my ears. This is useful for when I am mindlessly surfing the net, I can also listen to my favorite program. Because I have bluetooth, I am also able to control loudness from my phone or the bluetooth pendant I have hanging around my neck. The TV requires a special sending unit and the radio requires the phone. It only took me one year to learn how to control these connections because it was not obvious that when I want to watch TV I have to “pair” the TV sending unit to my pendant which then directs the sound into my ear. All of that should be totally automatic with no need for human intervention, training, and frustration. The pairing and the electronics should all be integrated in the hearing unit. If AI and the automated pairing were part of the package then I might believe the money I paid was worth it.

I am sure the next generation of hearing device that I buy will no doubt work on a network which means it will require user names and passwords to access anything. I can visualize it now. You ask me something and I say, “hold on while I input my user name and twenty character password.” After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to hack my hearing aids to hi-jack my brain.

Maybe if I live to be a hundred and eighty I’ll see some real progress in artificial intelligence come to fruition. In the meantime AI is just another acronym that people will try to impress us with.

Tracey J Boothe Publishing Blog

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