By now we’re all used to hearing the voices of Western pop musicians made more tuneful with electronic pitch correction.
This same technology, combined with micro-loudspeakers, should be able to assist the elderly, too. Akin to a hearing aid, it would be a speaking aid.
According to John Morenski, answering “Why do elderly people’s voice change into a ‘old persons voice’?“,
The vocal cords in men thin and atrophy with age, resulting in a higher pitched conversational voice. … Some of the changes can result from … attempts to compensate for these changes. Men may develop the “gravelly” voice in an attempt to lower the pitch.
The in-ear feedback could be combined with hearing aids. The actual voice could be masked from others (so that they don’t hear a double voice) with active noise control.
The same system minus the amplified voice correction, and with the hearing aids replaced with simple noise reducing earbuds, would also be useful immediately for mobile telephony. In a busy air terminal or shopping mall, you could speak as loud as you like without disturbing others, and without you or those you’re talking with being disturbed by the ambient noise. And the voice correction might still be useful, even if not required, to make you more easily understood by others on the call, such as by raising the pitch enough to circumvent the low-pass filter.
Even simple volume correction could improve communication quality for those who, perhaps from shyness, tend to speak too softly, and those who, perhaps from hearing loss, tend to speak too loudly.
Longer term, adding more intelligence to the voice correction, I would personally like a speaking aid that would compensate for my often lazy, mumbling enunciation, speaking too much from my throat. Think how much easier it would be to listen to Henry Kissinger if he were using such a device!
A speaking aid could correct for damaged voices (whether throat cancer or just a bad cold), speech impediments, foreign accents, hormone problems, and lazy speech habits like mine. Global call centers could use it to affect different accents, as could actors and those who want to sound posh.
Because of the active noise control, it could even filter out some words entirely, such as, ‘ummm”, “you know”, “like”, and obscenities. Because of the delay, this pruning wouldn’t be audible via the in-ear feedback.
Finally, intelligent hearing aids, phones, cell phones, etc. could build in voice correction to help you understand better what’s being said. For example, if your hearing is only good in a narrow range of frequencies, then why not adjust all of the voices you’re hearing into that range? It might sound odd at first, but you’d get used to it quickly. A global call center could automatically correct the incoming accent into the accent most familiar to the service rep.