There is no great stagnation

The drone of speakers who won’t stop is an inevitable experience at conferences, meetings, cinemas, and public libraries.

Today, Kazutaka Kurihara at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba and Koji Tsukada at Ochanomizu University, both in Japan, present a radical solution: a speech-jamming device that forces recalcitrant speakers into submission.

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.

Kurihara and Tsukada 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”.

Kurihara and Tsukada make no claims about the commercial potential of their device but  list various aplications. They say it could be used to maintain silence in public libraries and to “facilitate discussion” in group meetings. “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking,” they say.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson, here is her recent dialogue.


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