There’s no talking allowed at the theatre, in class, or during presentations, but that doesn’t stop some people from blabbering at the wrong time. This will.
Two Japanese researchers have solved the age-old problem of getting inconsiderate talkers to be quiet. Using knowledge of the way humans communicate and how feedback affects that process, Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada created a speech-jamming device that makes it incredibly difficult to speak. It’s so hard that the device can stop a person in mid-sentence.
Humans have extreme difficulty speaking when their words are played back on a delay. When someone hears his or her own words fractions of a second after being spoken, they become disoriented and have a tough time forming new sentences. Knowing this, Kurihara and Tsukada developed a system that includes a microphone and a speaker that can be used to prevent talking. When the microphone picks up someone’s speech, the speaker plays it back with a 0.2 second delay, putting words on hold.
The “SpeechJammer” disturbs the communication process using Delayed Auditory Feedback. Because the directional microphone focuses on one person’s speech and then interrupts his or her process without providing physical discomfort, it can be an effective way to shut down people speaking at inappropriate moments. How practical a way SpeechJammer can be is another story.
Kurihara and Tsukada developed SpeechJammer for research purposes, not to have it in stores in two weeks. And given the size of the SpeechJammer, it’s not exactly something that you can carry with you whenever someone speaks out of turn. But with this preliminary study based on a prototype, the information can be used to develop something that does work in the real world. Libraries could have systems that jam the loud study group, or perhaps theaters could jam talkative attendees. Unfortunately, as you can see in the demo video below, SpeechJammer could also have the negative effect of being used by the audience to interrupt performers or lecturers.
There are obvious downsides to this system and it may prove more trouble than it’s actually worth. After all, you don’t need a science project to simply turn around and be ask someone to be quiet. But if people are already going to inconsiderately talk when others reasonably expect silence, the right situation just might call for a jamming device.