Speak into a bag of chips from behind soundproof glass, and these MIT researchers can hear it.
Speak into a bag of chips from behind soundproof glass, and these MIT researchers can hear it.
Youtube user Abe Davis’s Research

MIT researchers have come up with a new way to record your private conversations: point a high-speed camera at a nearby plant. Think of it as a sort of lip-reading of inanimate objects.

Using a camera and a nifty algorithm, researchers discovered a way to recreate sound from behind soundproof glass by just analyzing a video recording. The new technology, The Washington Post points out, relies on the fact that soundwaves cause tiny, distinct vibrations when they hit nearby objects. By analyzing those minute vibrations, the researchers were able to recreate the sounds.

In one example, researchers played “Mary Had a Little Lamb” next to a plant, while a camera captured it on video. By applying the algorithm to the video, the researchers recreated the audio, which sounds like a mangled but recognizable version of the children’s song.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Other experiments on a bag of chips and a pair of earphones were able to recover similarly coarse but recognizable conversations and tunes, respectively.

The paper detailing the technology was led by Abe Davis, an electrical engineering and computer science graduate student at MIT, who noted that people concerned with privacy shouldn’t be too worried. Yet. “Big brother won’t be able to hear anything that anyone ever says all of a sudden,” he told the Post. “But it is possible that you could use this to discover sound in situations where you couldn’t before. It’s just adding one more tool for those forensic applications.”