Tax dollars at work. More ways to keep us attached to cell-phones.

Just think how eerie it would be, yet also how peaceful – people all around having conversations on their mobile phones, but without uttering a sound.

Thanks to some military research, this social nirvana just might come true. DARPA, the US Department of Defense’s research agency, is working on a project known as Advanced Speech Encoding, aimed at replacing microphones with non-acoustic sensors that detect speech via the speaker’s nerve and muscle activity, rather than sound itself.

Stay connected at all times everywhere. Oh joy!

One system, being developed for DARPA by Rick Brown of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, relies on a sensor worn around the neck called a tuned electromagnetic resonator collar (TERC). Using sensing techniques developed for magnetic resonance imaging, the collar detects changes in capacitance caused by movement of the vocal cords, and is designed to allow speech to be heard above loud background noise.

DARPA is also pursuing an approach first developed at NASA’s Ames lab, which involves placing electrodes called electromyographic sensors on the neck, to detect changes in impedance during speech. A neural network processes the data and identifies the pattern of words. The sensor can even detect subvocal or silent speech. The speech pattern is sent to a computerised voice generator that recreates the speaker’s words.

DARPA envisages issuing the technology to soldiers on covert missions, crews in noisy vehicles or divers working underwater. But one day civilians might use a refined version to be heard over the din of a factory or engine room, or a loud bar or party. More importantly, perhaps, the technology would allow people to use phones in places such as train carriages, cinemas or libraries without disturbing others. Brown has produced a TERC prototype, and an electromyographic prototype is expected in 2008.


A few days ago I watched a ‘news’ report on the increase use of cell phones by our children. They showed 3 pre-teen girls, all talking on a cool cell phone while hanging out with each other. What happened to face to face conversation and who are they talking to when they are with all their friends? I always hated call waiting and thought it rude when someone calls me and gets beeped by call waiting and puts me on hold. Or when I’m visiting someone and they get a call and instead of telling the caller they had company and will call back waste a half hour of my time talking to the caller.

Also awhile back, I was sitting in an airport waiting for a friend’s arrival and I swear 75% of people were talking on cell-phones. I listened in on several conversations…”Yup”..”OKay”..”Yup”..”No”.
.”Later”..Bye and then call someone else and on and on.

But with the new DARPA experiments coming along I won’t have to be subjected to the intriguing eaves-dropping anymore. I guess that’s a good thing.

So now I have another exciting image of the future- a bunch of Stepford people walking quietly around holding their cool cell phones going about their business….

Oh and NASA is experimenting with this:

NASA develops ‘mind-reading’ system

15:35 22 March 2004

NASA Ames Research Center Computing, Information and Communications Technology Program, NASA Speech and hearing research, University of Sheffield, UK A computer program which can read silently spoken words by analysing nerve signals in our mouths and throats, has been developed by NASA. Preliminary results show that using button-sized sensors, which attach under the chin and on the side of the Adam’s apple, it is possible to pick up and recognise nerve signals and patterns from the tongue and vocal cords that correspond to specific words. “Biological signals arise when reading or speaking to oneself with or without actual lip or facial movement,” says Chuck Jorgensen, a neuroengineer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, in charge of the research. Just the slightest movements in the voice box and tongue is all it needs to work, he says.


So we won’t actually need cell phones.

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