Thursday, March 1, 2012

Silence In the Library

We have all had our fair share of Chatty Kathy's, either in a movie theater, the library, or even a group discussion. What would happen if someone invented a device that could literally shut those kinds of people up? Not permanently of course, but hopefully just enough to get the point across? Two Japanese researchers may have already come up with such a device. Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada have built a small "gun" that can jam the words of a speaker more than 100ft away without any actual physical discomfort on the part of the "victim".
Kurihara and Tsukada explain their motivations and main purpose behind making the gun in their research paper: "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." Basically, the gun is supposed to be used to help facilitate group discussion and enforce the "proper rules" of conversation.

But how does it work? The gun consists of a microphone and a speaker that can record a person's voice and replay it back to them after a 0.2 second delay. As it turns out, psychological studies have shown that replaying someone's words back to them with the delay of a fraction of a second confuses the brain, making it nearly impossible to continue speaking for a few seconds-- a phenomenon called Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF). It seems simple: if you know something can promote silence then just build a device that does that, but the research has been known for years (at least since 1951) but only now is the device actually being built. Kurihara and Tsukada had the creativity to actually try at turning the research into a functional device-- and the ability to succeed at it too.

Then gun brings up a controversial issue though, especially in the consideration of the right to free speech.
Though there are benevolent motivations like keeping a library quiet or allowing the more soft-spoken of a group the chance to speak, there are worries that the gun can be used for more malicious intentions like silencing the opinions of a protestor or sabotaging a political candidate's speech.

1 comment:

  1. This "gun" is a particularly interesting creation. What really fascinates me (especially after our discussion of personality today) is what inspired Kurihara and Tsukada. I know you address what they claim their purpose was in their paper, but I'm wondering what their "Ah-ha!" moment was. Additionally, there is a lot to be said for the field. I'm thinking that this device would be met with protest in the United States; however, it could become a powerful tool of oppression for people living in already censored societies. Its cultural acceptance is what would fascinate me.

    Aside from all that, I wonder why we (our brains) get so confused when we hear our own voice with that delay, especially since I feel like many of us sound different in our heads than we do when we hear our voices recorded. I'm sure that is some of psychological studies Kurihara and Tsukada based their work off of.

    I'm definitely going to look more into this device and what happens with it.


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