The brain is the software, the ears are the hardware.

Guest article by scientific futurist, Dr. Catherine Ball.

Digital, tech-loaded, and systems-led thinking are changing the perception of our senses, how they go ‘wrong’ and what we can do to improve things. From the pioneering technological work of Professor Graeme Clark and his world-first cochlear implant surgery in 1978 through to the current efforts of Dimity Dornan at Hear and Say, via the works of understanding APD by Dr Angela Loucks Alexander, the way we hear can change how we hear the world. And how the world hears us.

Not everyone experiences sounds the same way, or indeed recognizes the sounds at all. Physical (hardware) and neurological (software) differences for some people can lead to lifelong misdiagnoses. Failing to identify and treat auditory issues can lead to low self-esteem, and even mental health crises. When we can’t hear within the ‘normal range’ of sounds, it can lead to social anxiety, and the fear of not understanding a group conversation can hold us back at work and at home. Kids that can’t hear properly in school can be misdiagnosed with behavioral issues or not reach their academic potential.

Newborn babies have a hearing test at birth, but when was the last time you had one? And did your kids get one before they started school? Hearing is our second strongest sense after our sight, and it is significant in terms of not just signal processing but also keeping our brains functioning. One of the hidden risks of losing your hearing is that some studies have directly correlated even mild hearing loss with an increased rate of dementia. 

Newborn babies have a hearing test at birth, but when was the last time you had one?

A recent TEDx talk by Dr Angela Loucks Alexander called ‘Escaping the Hidden Prison of Auditory Processing Disorder’ (APD) explains how an estimated 8% of us have some form of issue for processing the sounds our ears are hearing. She demonstrates with a real patient example how with auditory training can have real life-changing results. This isn’t about the hearing failing, it is about the processing not working as it should. The ears are hearing, but the brain isn’t listening. An example of this might be when you’re in a noisy pub and you can’t hear what your friend is saying to you, or you’re having to read their lips to get the message (I think a lot of us have been there).

We have the technology and hardware upgrades in terms of bionics. We can use neuro-prostheses to create hearing capability. The real magic, however, of these engineering solutions is the human expertise and guiding hands with applying therapy and groundbreaking techniques to maximise the signal-to-noise ratio, improving the quality of life for many thousands of people.

References:

Hear and Say is a world-leading Paediatric Auditory-Verbal and cochlear implant centre, teaching deaf children to listen and speak since 1992. They are the only centre in Australia to run a program dedicated to the rare conditions of Microtia and Atresia.

APD Support is a series of self-paced, online learning modules to improve auditory skills from the comfort of home.  

TEDx talk by Dr. Angela Alexander, Audiologist and Founder of Auditory Processing Disorder Support (APD Support).

About the Author: Dr Catherine Ball is an Associate Professor at The Australian National University (ANU) School of Engineering, tech influencer, author, champion of diversity and drone expert. She works across global projects where emerging technologies meet humanitarian, education and environmental needs. Catherine is also a founding partner of the World of Drones and Robotics Congress; an annual event held in Brisbane which is the biggest drone, robotics and AI conference in the Southern Hemisphere which caters to schools and businesses worldwide.

Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.