SILENCE ENFORCEMENT DEVICE
Japanese researchers have created a hand-held gun that can jam the words of speakers who are more than 30 meters (100ft) away. The gun has two purposes, according to the researchers: At its most basic, this gun could be used in libraries and other quiet spaces to stop people from speaking — but its second application is a lot more chilling.
The researchers were looking for a way to stop “louder, stronger” voices from saying more than their fair share in conversation. The paper reads: “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking. However, some people tend to lengthen their turns or deliberately interrupt other people when it is their turn in order to establish their presence rather than achieve more fruitful discussions. Furthermore, some people tend to jeer at speakers to invalidate their speech.” In other words, this speech-jamming gun was built to enforce “proper” conversations.
The gun works by listening in with a directional microphone, and then, after a short delay of around 0.2 seconds, playing it back with a directional speaker. This triggers an effect that psychologists call Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF), which has long been known to interrupt your speech (you might’ve experienced the same effect if you’ve ever heard your own voice echoing through Skype or another voice comms program). According to the researchers, DAF doesn’t cause physical discomfort, but the fact that you’re unable to talk is obviously quite stressful.
Suffice it to say, if you’re a firm believer in free speech, you should now be experiencing a deafening cacophony of alarm bells. Let me illustrate a few examples of how this speech-jamming gun could be used. At a political rally, an audience member could completely lock down Santorum, Romney, Paul, or Obama from speaking. On the flip side, a totalitarian state could point the speech jammers at the audienceto shut them up. Likewise, when a celebrity or public figure appears on a live TV show, his contract could read “the audience must be silenced with speech jammers.”
Then there’s Harrison Bergeron, one of my favorite short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. In the story’s dystopian universe, everyone wears “handicaps” to ensure perfect social equality. Strong people must lug around heavy weights, beautiful people must wear masks, and intelligent people must wear headphones that play a huge blast of sound every few seconds, interrupting your thoughts. The more intelligent you are, the more regular the blasts.
Back here in our universe, it’s not hard to imagine a future where we are outfitted with a variety of implanted electronics or full-blown bionic organs. Just last week we wrote about Google’s upcoming augmented-reality glasses, which will obviously have built-in earbuds. Late last year we covered bionic eyesthat can communicate directly with the brain, and bionic ears and noses can’t be far off.
In short, imagine if a runaway mega-corporation or government gains control of these earbuds. Not only could the intelligence-destroying blasts from Harrison Bergeron come to pass, but with Delayed Auditory Feedback it would be possible to render the entire population mute. Well, actually, that’s a lie: Apparently DAF doesn’t work with utterances like “ahhh!” or “boooo!” or other non-wordy constructs. So, basically, we’d all be reduced to communicating with grunts and gestures.
How to Build a Speech-Jamming Gun
Japanese researchers build a gun capable of stopping speakers in mid-sentence / 03/01/2012
The drone of speakers who won’t stop is an inevitable experience at conferences, meetings, cinemas, and public libraries. Today, Kazutaka Kurihara at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba and Koji Tsukada at Ochanomizu University, both in Japan, present a radical solution: a speech-jamming device that forces recalcitrant speakers into submission.
The idea is simple. Psychologists have known for some years that it is almost impossible to speak when your words are replayed to you with a delay of a fraction of a second. Kurihara and Tsukada have simply built a handheld device consisting of a microphone and a speaker that does just that: it records a person’s voice and replays it to them with a delay of about 0.2 seconds. The microphone and speaker are directional so the device can be aimed at a speaker from a distance, like a gun.
In tests, Kurihara and Tsukada say their speech jamming gun works well: “The system can disturb remote people’s speech without any physical discomfort.” Their tests also identify some curious phenomena. They say the gun is more effective when the delay varies in time and more effective against speech that involves reading aloud than against spontaneous monologue.
Kurihara and Tsukada make no claims about the commercial potential of their device but list various aplications. They say it could be used to maintain silence in public libraries and to “facilitate discussion” in group meetings. “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking,” they say. That has important implications. “There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, ” they point out.
email : k-kurihara [ at ] aist.go.jp
email : tsuka [at] mobiquitous [dot] com
SpeechJammer: A System Utilizing Artificial Speech Disturbance with Delayed Auditory Feedback
by Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada / 28 Feb 2012
“In this paper we report on a system, “SpeechJammer”, which can be used to disturb people’s speech. In general, human speech is jammed by giving back to the speakers their own utterances at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This effect can disturb people without any physical discomfort, and disappears immediately by stop speaking. Furthermore, this effect does not involve anyone but the speaker. We utilize this phenomenon and implemented two prototype versions by combining a direction-sensitive microphone and a direction-sensitive speaker, enabling the speech of a specific person to be disturbed. We discuss practical application scenarios of the system, such as facilitating and controlling discussions. Finally, we argue what system parameters should be examined in detail in future formal studies based on the lessons learned from our preliminary study.”
Two Japanese researchers recently introduced a prototype for a device they call a SpeechJammer that can literally “jam” someone’s voice — effectively stopping them from talking. Now they’ve released a video of the device in action. “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking,” write Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada in their article on the SpeechJammer (PDF). “However, some people tend to lengthen their turns or deliberately disrupt other people when it is their turn … rather than achieve more fruitful discussions.”
The researchers released the video after their paper went viral Thursday, to the authors’ apparent surprise. “Do you know why our project is suddenly becoming hot now?” asked Kurihara, a research scientist at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba, in an e-mail exchange with Wired.com. (Kurihara’s partner Tsukada is an assistant professor at Ochanomizu University in Tokyo.)
The design of the SpeechJammer is deceptively simple. It consists of a direction-sensitive microphone and a direction-sensitive speaker, a motherboard, a distance sensor and some relatively straightforward code. The concept is simple, too — it operates on the well-studied principle of delayed auditory feedback. By playing someone’s voice back to them, at a slight delay (around 200 milliseconds), you can jam a person’s speech.
Sonic devices have popped up in pop culture in the past. In sci-fi author J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Sound-Sweep,” published in 1960, a vacuum cleaner called a “sonovac” sweeps up the debris of old sounds. The wily German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen had plans for a “sound swallower,” which would cancel unwanted sounds in the environment using the acoustic principle of destructive interference. And in 1984 German film Decoder, special yellow cassette tapes play “anti-Muzak” that destroys the lulling tones of Muzak, stimulating diners at a fast-food restaurant to throw up en masse and start rioting.
But instead of sci-fi, the Japanese researchers behind the SpeechJammer looked to medical devices used to help people with speech problems. Delayed auditory feedback, or DAF, devices have been used to help stutterers for decades. If a stutterer hears his own voice at a slight delay, stuttering often improves. But if a non-stutterer uses a DAF device designed to help stutterers, he can start stuttering — and the effect is more pronounced if the delay is longer, up to a certain point.
“We utilized DAF to develop a device that can jam remote physically unimpaired people’s speech whether they want it or not,” write the researchers. “[The] device possesses one characteristic that is different from the usual medical DAF device; namely, the microphone and speaker are located distant from the target.”
Being at a distance from the target means it’s possible to aim the device at people who are several feet away — sort of like a TV B-Gone, but for people. Bothered by what someone at a meeting is saying? Point the SpeechJammer at him. Can’t stand your nattering in-laws? Time for the SpeechJammer. In the wrong hands — criminals, for instance, or repressive governments — the device could have potentially sinister applications. For now, it remains a prototype.
“One day I just came by a science museum and enjoyed a demonstration about Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF) at [the] cognitive science corner,” says Kurihara. “When I spoke to a microphone, my voice came back to me after a few hundred millisecond delay. Then, I could not continue to speak any more. That’s fun!”
Kurihara soon realized his adventures in the science museum could be applicable to other fields. He was already interested in developing a system that “controls appropriate turn-taking at discussions.” The science museum visit was his “aha!” moment. “Then I came up with the gun-type SpeechJammer idea utilizing DAF,” says Kurihara. “That’s the destiny.”
Kurihara enlisted the talents of Koji Tsukada, an assistant professor at Tokyo’s Ochanamizu University who he calls “the gadget master.” Tsukada has been involved in a number of strange and intriguing projects, including the LunchCommunicator, a “lunchbox-type device which supports communication between family members”; the SmartMakeupSystem, which “helps users find new makeup methods for use with their daily cosmetics”; and the EaTheremin, a “fork-type instrument that enables users to play various sounds by eating foods”.
Tsukada introduced Kurihara to a parametric speaker kit, which they could use to convey sound in a very direction-sensitive way. “After I explained him my idea, he soon agreed to join my project,” says Kurihara. “It was a marriage between science and gadgets!”
As for SpeechJammer’s potentially sinister uses? “We hope SpeechJammer is used for building the peaceful world,” says Kurihara. The world can only hope.