Mammals localize sounds using information from their two ears. Localization in real-world conditions is challenging, as echoes provide erroneous information, and noises mask parts of target sounds. To better understand real-world localization we equipped a deep neural network with human ears and trained it to localize sounds in a virtual environment. The resulting model localized accurately in realistic conditions with noise and reverberation, outperforming alternative systems that lacked human ears. In simulated experiments, the network exhibited many features of human spatial hearing: sensitivity to monaural spectral cues and interaural time and level differences, integration across frequency, and biases for sound onsets. But when trained in unnatural environments without either reverberation, noise, or natural sounds, these performance characteristics deviated from those of humans. The results show how biological hearing is adapted to the challenges of real-world environments and illustrate how artificial neural networks can extend traditional ideal observer models to real-world domains.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience