SpeechJammer device shuts annoying people up

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Ever wished the people around you had a mute button? Two Japanese researchers did. And they've done something about it, inventing a device called the SpeechJammer that cuts annoying speakers off in mid-stream.

Many people have experienced a poor phone connection that's meant they can hear their own words coming back at them after a small delay - and making it remarkably difficult to keep up the conversation.

And Kazutaka Kurihara of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba and Koji Tsukada of Ochanomizu University have used the same effect for their SpeechJammer device.

The SpeechJammer consists of no more than a microphone that records a person's speech and a speaker that plays it back at them with a delay of about 0.2 seconds. It's portable, and runs on AA batteries.

And tests show that pulling the trigger is enough to make the speaker start stuttering and then grind to a halt, they say.

"This effect can disturb people without any physical discomfort, and disappears immediately when they stop speaking," they say. "Furthermore, this effect does not involve anyone but the speaker."

Apparently, the device doesn't have any effect against random verbalisations such as 'aaaaarghhhh', but works a treat with normal speaking, and particularly against anyone reading aloud.

The researchers reckon it would be a great way of enforcing silence in libraries and meetings.

"We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking," they say. "There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts."