Sound engineers are trying to figure out how people can focus in a single speaker while tuning out other talkers in a t crowded, noisy room. This is known as the "cocktail party effect."
"Watching" the brain in action with fMRI machines reveals that the representation of speech in the cortex does not reflect the entire external acoustic environment but instead just what we really want or need to hear.
Researchers are working hard to figure out what tones of voice people will listen to--for G.P.S. directions in their cars, for "Siri" on their iphones. Medical Xpress quotes researcher Nima Mesgarani as saying that speech recognition is "something that humans are remarkably good at, but it turns out that machine emulation of this human ability is extremely difficult."
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