We’ve all suffered through a lunch, date, or meeting with a monologist—you know, a person who, oblivious to social cues, dominates the conversation, shows little interest in others around the table, and, when someone tries to shove in one’s oar, raises his voice to drown out the hope of a dialogue.
The question is, how to call out the offender on his obnoxious behavior when you can’t get a word in edgewise? One way is to throw his words back at him. Two Japanese researchers have created a gunlike instrument that does just that. Using the principle of delayed audio feedback, their SpeechJammer records speech and plays it back with a split-second pause, effectively stupefying and silencing the speaker.
Kazutaka Kurihara, a researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, thought up the idea after participating in a demonstration of delayed audio feedback at a local museum. "When I spoke to a microphone, my voice came back to me after a few hundred millisecond delay, then I could not continue to speak anymore," Kurihara tells Co.Design. "Around that time, my research interest was about developing a system that controls appropriate turn-taking at discussions and was looking for technologies to enforce some discussion rules for participants. Then I came up with the gun type SpeechJammer idea utilizing DAF. That’s the destiny." He recruited his friend, Koji Tsukada, a "gadget master" at Ochanomizu University, to help him realize the concept, consisting of a direction-sensitive mic and speaker, a distance sensor, a laser pointer, and a microcontroller.
Kurihara stresses that the intent isn’t only to shut up blabbermouths but to allow space for the less vocal to join the conversation. "Fair discussions are essential for resolving conflicts through communication," he and Tsukada write in their paper. "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." SpeechJammer was conceived to correct such abuses and allow all participants to have an equal say in proceedings.
The technology behind the idea might be overkill: Under ordinary circumstances, thrusting a mic-equipped gun into a person’s face should be enough to throw anyone off his game. But in the case of, say, the upcoming presidential debates, we can imagine it being an entirely effective (and somewhat hilarious) way to impose time restrictions.
[Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock]