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Stop That Speaker!

Posted by Josh Rothman  March 7, 2012 12:01 PM

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Steve Jobs was often lauded for creating products people didn't know they wanted until they saw them. From the excellent Physics ArXiv blog, here's an invention I didn't know I wanted until just now: a speech-jamming gun. It's perfect for stopping speakers who run over time:

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....

[Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada, Japanese scientists] 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. Sadly, they report that it has no effect on meaningless sound sequences such as "aaaaarghhh".

Too bad, as it was it's the "aaaaarrgghhhh"s that are most annoying, especially at academic conferences. More, including a great diagram, at Physics ArXiv.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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