OTC Hearing Aids and More AI

March 22, 2023

Hearing aids can be prohibitively expensive, to the point that some people will forgo them because they just cost too much and, as a result, miss out on a lot! We talked about Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) and Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) back in my June 30, 2022 column (https://tonystakeontech.com/assistive-listening-devices-whaaaaaa/) but I have some news! As of October, 2022, you can buy Over-The-Counter (OTC) hearing aids! They are still regulated by the federal government but you don’t need a prescription and they tend to be a bit less expensive than traditional hearing aids even though they are often quite similar to them. You don’t get them from an audiologist or an ear/nose/throat doctor, you buy them from places like Best Buy and Amazon. They’re for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still not cheap, by any means, but they’re less expensive than prescription hearing aids. Instead of costing several thousands of dollars they tend to cost less than $2,000, some are much less, and some look like regular earbuds! Information about OTC hearing aids is available directly from the National Institutes of Health at https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/over-counter-hearing-aids and a good overview, along with some general information such as an explanation of the different types of OTC hearing aids is at https://www.cnet.com/health/medical/over-the-counter-hearing-aids-whats-available-and-where-to-buy/. There is a wealth of sites that purport to show you the “best” OTC hearing aids but they can be a good source of information. I have gathered 3 sites which I trust

– https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-over-the-counter-hearing-aids

– https://www.ncoa.org/adviser/hearing-aids/best-otc-hearing-aids/

– https://www.forbes.com/health/hearing-aids/best-hearing-aids/

Moving on, I know I’ve talked about Artificial Intelligence (AI) several times in the recent past but there has been a flurry of activity around AI in recent weeks so I thought now would be a good time to bring you all up to date on the latest.

The company OpenAI seems to be the 800 pound gorilla right now. Microsoft has invested over 20 billion dollars in them and has brought their AI to Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.com. To review, OpenAI has a chatbot at https://chat.openai.com (also known as ChatGPT) which uses their GPT 3.5 engine. In my column from February 9, 2023 (https://tonystakeontech.com/chatgpt) I talked about GPT-3, the third generation of their engine. Well,  they’ve continued to work on it and their free version is now based on that newer 3.5 version which has improved on its ability to “understand” typed words. OpenAI has a premium service, again at https://chat.openai.com,  which, at $20/month, gives you access to GPT-4 which OpenAI says is MUCH better at “understanding,” and responding. In addition it can take images as input (hence, the reason they call GPT-4 “multimodal”). A good, mostly jargon-free article about it can be found at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2023/mar/14/chat-gpt-4-new-model

Microsoft has recently announced that they will be bringing AI to their Office suite (now called Microsoft 365) in a product called Copilot. Supposedly it will be able to generate a Word document from a description you give it and will be able to summarize emails from Outlook. There’s more but these two points seem to me to be most useful outside of a business environment – you can see a more complete picture from the article at https://www.howtogeek.com/879737/microsoft-365-copilot-will-add-ai-to-word-outlook-and-more/. No, this isn’t available yet but Microsoft says it will be rolling out in the coming months.

Google, not to be outdone, has announced that they’re bringing their own AI to GMail and Google Docs, to help in pretty much the same way Microsoft’s Copilot will work. Of course it’s not generally available now either but will be generally available in coming weeks.

The search engines are also getting into the AI game. Earlier in this column I mentioned that Microsoft is bringing OpenAI’s GPT to Bing. It comes in two ways. First way is when you do a search with Bing, it will summarize your search results. The second way is you can chat with Bing much the same way you can chat with OpenAI’s chatbot. It differs in that when it answers you it gives you links to the sites it gathered the information from. In my column from February 23, 2023 (https://tonystakeontech.com/evil-ai) I mentioned that NeevaAI will summarize your search results when you use Neeva’s search engine. Well, the DuckDuckGo search engine is doing the same thing now with their DuckAssist. Right now it appears to only use Wikipedia and Britannica and then uses several AI engines to make the response more conversational. You can read more about it at https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/try-duckduckgos-new-ai-feature-duckassist-now-for-free/

That’s it for this week. I hope I’ve been able to explain some of the recent news in terms we can all understand and I hope you’ll give some of the new things a try! As always, my intent with these columns is to spark your curiosity, give you enough information to get started, and arm you with the necessary keywords (or buzzwords) so you’ll understand the basics and are equipped to search for more detailed information.

Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at tony@TonysTakeOnTech.com or just drop me a quick note and say HI! And don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L – it should be updated shortly after this column appears online.