Empowering individuals with hearing loss through the transformative power of AI: Achin Bhowmik, CTO, Starkey

Starkey aims at advancing hearing technology and empowering those with hearing loss through artificial intelligence and global collaboration for better health

Supriya Rai
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Achin Bhowmik, CTO, Starkey

Achin Bhowmik, CTO, Starkey

Starkey announced the launch of its Genesis AI hearing aids in India. The company says that Genesis AI represents a quantum leap in hearing aid technology, offering unparalleled sound clarity, advanced health-tracking capabilities, and a personalized user experience. The key features of Genesis AI include an Advanced Starkey Neuro Sound Processor, a long-lasting rechargeable battery, health tracking sensors, enhanced sound processing with Edge Mode+, ergonomic design, and comfortable fit. Dr. Achin Bhowmik, chief technology officer and EVP of engineering of Starkey, spoke to Dataquest along the sidelines of the launch to discuss more about the company, its premium products and how they hope to empower the lives of individuals with the aid of technology.


DQ: Could you please provide me with an overview of the company's mission and how it intersects with the field of health technology, specifically focusing on hearing technology?

Achin Bhowmik: Starkey is a unique company, especially considering my background; I'm relatively new to the hearing health industry. Before joining Starkey six years ago, I worked at Intel as the vice president of perceptual computing focusing on AI. Starkey was founded by Mr. William Austin, often referred to as a hearing angel. When I first met him over six years ago, he struck me as a combination of Andy Grove, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, infused with a passion for helping people. This ethos permeates the company. Although privately held, Starkey is not a small company, boasting between 5,000 and 6,000 employees. We operate in over 100 countries, but our core ethos is driven by a mission. While profitability is important, our primary goal is to introduce groundbreaking technology to the realm of hearing aids. This is precisely why I joined the company.  Our mission led us to incorporate advanced technologies from other sectors, such as consumer electronics and AI, into our hearing aids. These technologies are already making significant impacts elsewhere, and we wanted to pioneer their integration into hearing aids for several reasons.  

Firstly, we aimed to fundamentally change how sound is processed in hearing aids. Many users complain of hearing sounds but struggling to understand speech. We believed AI could address this issue. Secondly, we sought to transform hearing aids into multifunctional devices. Why should a device in your ear only serve one purpose? We integrated sensors and utilized machine learning to enable the device to monitor your health, with plans for further expansion in this area. Thirdly, we recognized the rise of personal assistants and envisioned a device in your ear seamlessly connected to the cloud via smartphones. It should answer your queries, translate languages, transcribe conversations, and more. Today, with the launch of Genesis AI, we've achieved all three goals. I liken this milestone to the iPhone moment in the hearing industry. Our company's ethos of "hear better and live better," as emphasized by Mr. Austin, encapsulates our mission. We not only aim to enhance hearing but also to improve overall quality of life through our devices.    


DQ: Role played by AI in Starkey’s products and offerings?

Achin Bhowmik: You're likely aware of the transformative impact of AI across various sectors, from consumer electronics to finance and medicine. However, in our industry, the integration of AI to fundamentally alter device functionality was a relatively untapped opportunity until about five years ago when we embarked on the development of Genesis AI.  Our vision was to harness deep neural networks to revolutionize the processing of sound. By training our device with vast amounts of data, we aimed to enable it to decipher speech amidst a cacophony of surrounding noise. This posed a significant challenge for traditional algorithms, as both speech and noise often occupy the same frequency band. Through a data-driven approach and machine learning techniques, we succeeded in separating speech from noise.  The result is Genesis, which excels in enhancing speech clarity in noisy environments while effectively suppressing unwanted noise. This breakthrough underscores the power of AI in revolutionizing the functionality of our devices, offering users an unparalleled experience in challenging listening environments.

DQ: How is AI expected to impact the healthcare sector?


Achin Bhowmik: I believe it's poised to revolutionize health technology in every aspect. Let me start by clarifying what it won't do. I don't foresee AI replacing human professionals; rather, it will augment their capabilities, making their jobs easier. Look beyond our field, and you'll see rapid adoption, such as in radiology, where AI aids in reading X-ray images and identifying patients needing closer attention. Before the advent of deep neural networks and convolutional neural networks, image analysis lacked the accuracy needed for serious consideration. However, in the past five to six years, with the abundance of data and advancements in AI models like transformer networks, we've witnessed a paradigm shift. Healthcare is on the brink of transformation, promising enhanced accuracy and efficiency. Physicians will have more time to focus on critical tasks, leading to a more satisfying experience for both them and their patients. With AI-enabled analysis and diagnostics, patients can expect swifter and more accurate interventions, potentially saving lives in critical situations.

DQ: Does Starkey collaborate with healthcare professionals and other organizations to enhance its products? Is there a feedback mechanism in place?

Achin Bhowmik: Starkey stands out for its deep integration with healthcare professionals. Whether they're cardiologists, ENT doctors, or hearing care specialists, we recognize the importance of their expertise. At Starkey, we not only employ medical and healthcare professionals but also collaborate extensively with audiologists and hearing care specialists worldwide, including in regions like India. Typically, it's these professionals who bridge the gap between patients and us. To facilitate this collaboration, we offer comprehensive training programs covering our devices, technologies, fitting software, and mobile apps. This symbiotic relationship between patients, professionals, and us ensures effective communication, treatment, and ultimately, better outcomes for all involved.


DQ: What is your vision and long term strategic direction for the India market?

Achin Bhowmik: In essence, when I transitioned from Intel to Starkey, it wasn't for small endeavors. We harbored significant ambitions, and today, those ambitions have materialized. During my presentation, I'll delve into the core technology underlying our products and what sets them apart. When I likened it to the "iPhone moment" for the hearing industry, it wasn't a casual remark. I hope that as you learn about the products we're launching and hear my explanations on stage, you'll be convinced of the technological capabilities, the robust processor platform we've developed, and the innovative features we've integrated.  Speaking specifically about the Indian market, I'm incredibly excited about the positive momentum we're witnessing. As I arrived at the hotel from the airport, I couldn't help but notice the evident upgrades happening here. It's clear that the reports we've received from the US regarding a comprehensive system overhaul are accurate. For us, this presents an opportune moment to introduce our disruptive hearing aid product, Genesis AI, to the Indian market. While people have been using hearing aids for some time, Genesis AI represents a paradigm shift. It's the perfect time to introduce a disruptive device to the Indian market. 

In the history of any device or industry segment, there are seminal moments. Though my presentation time is limited, I believe we're on the cusp of such a transformative moment. Disruptive technology has the power to revolutionize products, and I believe we're witnessing the beginning of that shift now. Keep an eye on us, and in a year or two, you'll witness a significant momentum shift in the realm of hearing aids. The stigma surrounding them, questioning their necessity or functionality, will dissipate. Genesis AI marks the beginning of this transformation.


DQ: Key Features of the Genesis AI

Achin Bhowmik: Genesis AI represents the culmination of years of research and innovation, driven by our commitment to improving the lives of individuals with hearing loss. With its advanced features and cutting-edge technology, Genesis AI sets a new standard for hearing care excellence. Some of the key features include:

Advanced Neuro Processor: Boasting six times the transistors and four times the speed of previous generations, the Neuro Processor mimics the function of the central auditory system, delivering superior sound processing and clarity. 


Long-Lasting Rechargeable Battery: With up to 51 hours of battery life from a single charge, Genesis AI ensures uninterrupted usage, providing users with confidence and convenience throughout their day.

Health Tracking Sensors: Integrated sensors monitor activity levels, detect falls, and track overall health metrics, empowering users to proactively manage their well-being.

Enhanced Sound Processing: Genesis AI's advanced sound processing capabilities optimize speech understanding and reduce background noise, ensuring clear communication in diverse environments.

Sleek Design and Comfortable Fit: Designed for discretion and comfort, Genesis AI features a sleek, ergonomic design that seamlessly integrates into users' lifestyles.

Additionally, Starkey says that the Genesis AI is the only hearing aid in the world that has a “fall alert feature”. Users can enter the details of three individuals through geo-tagging who would be alerted if the person using the device falls down.