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Cone of Silence 2.0 91

Posted by kdawson
from the would-you-believe-you-will-no-longer-be-able-to-hear-me dept.
Village Idiot sends word of a patent granted to MIT researchers for a cone of silence a la Maxwell Smart. This one doesn't use plastic, but rather active and networked sensors and speakers embedded in a (probably indoor) space such as an open-plan office. "In 'Get Smart,' secret agents wanting a private conversation would deploy the 'cone of silence,' a clear plastic contraption lowered over the agents' heads. It never worked — they couldn't hear each other, while eavesdroppers could pick up every word. Now a modern cone of silence that we are assured will work is being patented by engineers Joe Paradiso and Yasuhiro Ono of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ... Instead of plastic domes, they use a sensor network to work out where potential eavesdroppers are, and speakers to generate a subtle masking sound at just the right level. ... The array of speakers... aims a mix of white noise and randomized office hubbub at the eavesdroppers. The subtle, confusing sound makes the conversation unintelligible." One comment thread on the article wonders about the propriety of tracking people around an office in order to preserve privacy.
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Cone of Silence 2.0

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  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:25PM (#27898397)
    Just go into your office and CLOSE THE DOOR.
    • by VagaStorm (691999) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:26PM (#27898407) Homepage
      I raise your closed office door by 1 hidden mic.
    • by BikeHelmet (1437881) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:56PM (#27898619) Journal

      That won't help you against one of these.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabolic_microphone [wikipedia.org]

      I happen to live in a small town, which doesn't have a lot of noise polution. One of my Uncles was a cop, and showed me a Parabolic Mic when I was younger. The thing lets you hear conversations inside a house an entire block away!

      Whenever I see TV shows where _EvilCorporation_ goes to the effort to bug a house with tiny mics, and there's a black van(or icecream truck!) sitting outside all the time, I can't help but laugh.

      If they want to know what you're saying, they don't have to get close to you or your house to do so!

      • Regarding the parabolic mic: What if there is a lot of noise pollution? Wouldn't be a big problem? Any noises bouncing off the house in question can easily mask what's going on inside.

        Though bugging the house wouldn't have to mean having to be nearby if you have good receivers.

      • by N Monkey (313423)

        That won't help you against one of these.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parabolic_microphone [wikipedia.org]

        I happen to live in a small town, which doesn't have a lot of noise polution. One of my Uncles was a cop, and showed me a Parabolic Mic when I was younger. The thing lets you hear conversations inside a house an entire block away!

        I guess if you did see someone pointing one at your house, the solution would be to get a another parabolic dish, aim it back at them, position yourself at the focal point and then SCREAM!!. That should make them take their earphones off in a hurry :-)

      • You can also apply an ingenious mixed solution [wikipedia.org]...
    • Or just shut your mouth...
    • Just go into your office and CLOSE THE DOOR.

      Hardly helpful when (laser, I think) beam focused on your office window can effectively turn it into a remote speaker. However, something that negates the sound waves generated by your words might just solve that. Probably not -- probably, if you can a monitor a laser beam, you can monitor it fast enough to detect the difference between sounds as said, and sounds after negation. But it's a start.

      I'd be much more interested in something like this around the engi

      • There's an instructable showing how to make a laser mic like this for under $50 iirc.
        Leaning an electric toothbrush against the window may work well enough to defeat it ofc.
    • by Meski (774546)

      Office? Door? What a curious world you do live in.

    • Sorry, I don't recall an agent named "Retief" in Get Smart. Was he a Control agent or KAOS agent? Was he like Hymie or human? Either way, you would fail the stringent testing and mental evaluation that all Control agents must pass to become one of the few...the proud...the Control Agents. "Go in your office and close the door." What nonsense is that?!?!?! Looks like you missed it... by THAT much. B-)
  • by ViennaLen (1483851) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @01:34PM (#27898459) Journal
    Agents: "Can you hear me now?"
    Eavesdroppers: "...... No.."
  • a sensor network to work out where potential eavesdroppers are...the array of speakers... aims a mix of white noise and randomized office hubbub at the eavesdroppers

    How do you point your white noise at a hidden mic or two? Or three...

    I have a feeling that if this device ever sees the light of day, that it will stay true to the legacy of the device it was named after.

    • by Cedric Tsui (890887) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:40PM (#27899345)

      Absolutely!

      What's worst is the device works by surrounding your secret meeting with an array of discreet sensors (aka, microphones). So if two or three extra microphones were to appear in the room, no one would suspect a thing.

      I guess it would work for the random passerby...

      • And the data used to generate the white noise, recorded or broadcast via bluetooth or other technology, is an excellent source of wiretapping data.

        This idea is like curbing teenage violence by giving them all shotguns.

        • by beav007 (746004)

          This idea is like curbing teenage violence by giving them all shotguns.

          I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, as the majority of the USA seems to follow this logic, and the rest of the West think that they're idiots for it.

      • Not to mention that you have no assurances that the mics that *are* supposed to be there as part of the system aren't being used to surreptitiously monitor and record your conversation.
  • by JustOK (667959)

    Yasuhiro Ono and the plastic domes are no more?

  • The Baron Harkonnen will be quite pleased.

  • It's an expensive version of turning the radio up.

  • Fricken Laser Beams (Score:4, Informative)

    by SteveTauber (996603) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:02PM (#27898669)
    Don't forget folks: if you are speaking in a room with windows, a laser can be pointed at the windows to pick up on vibrations due to conversation. http://www.google.com/search?q=laser+window+eavesdrop [google.com]
  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:04PM (#27898691)

    . . . you can bet your hairy ass they do! They generate sound to exactly cancel out the sound of their propellers.

    . . . so that sound cancellation technology on your ear buds was pioneered/sponsored by the DoD back in the early '60s. It even used some of that newfangled "transistor" technology.

    Maybe the "Get Smart" gag was just misinformation to convince the Russians that the idea was asinine and would never work?

    • The CIA actually investigated Get Smart a couple of times, since some of their stuff was disturbingly close to things used in real intelligence operations. (Including, ironically enough, the shoe phone, although the US didn't know about it at that point)

      If I recall correctly, the original cone of silence prop was purchased by the CIA at the conclusion of the show's run.

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        haha, you're a regular urban legend factory.

        what IS true is that some of the gadgets from spy shows including "Get Smart" were shown along side of real spy gear an exhibit in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

    • Except sound cancellation isn't what they're talking about here. FTFA: The array of speakers then aims a mix of white noise and randomised office hubbub at the eavesdroppers. The subtle, confusing sound makes the conversation unintelligible. White noise and random office hubbub is NOT an inverse waveform...
  • Shit... (Score:3, Funny)

    by meuhlavache (1101089) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:23PM (#27898819) Homepage

    The array of speakers... aims a mix of white noise and randomized office hubbub at the eavesdroppers.

    And what if they use brown note?

  • This dont make silence, but try to turn deaf what they think are the potential listeners. Is like putting a photo of a sunset in front of a specific vigilance camera.

    There was a old sci-fi story about a similar device, that did something like echoes the sound with a delay to make the sound waves cancel and make silence. That wouldnt work in real world, but if is the same basic idea could the patent be challenged?
    • by ngibbins (88512)
      The story is Arthur C. Clarke's 1954 short Silence Please, included in his anthology Tales from the White Hart. The science isn't too bad; this is essentially how noise-cancelling headphones work.
  • This just means that instead of overhearing by ear, you can now plant a listening device in the machine generating the interference signals and rather easily infer what's being said from the interference generated. After all, they're basically doing Bose-like noise-cancellation, which means the generation of an inverse-wavelength signals-- which can easily be reversed into intelligible signals. That means the machine is constantly sampling what they're saying in order to cancel it out, which means a bug in

    • by sFurbo (1361249)
      No, they're not, according to TFR. They are applying white noise to drown the information, making the office even noisier. Great...
  • by solios (53048) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:51PM (#27898993) Homepage

    It's been a ridiculously long time since I read Frank Herbert's Dune (or any of its sequels), but I remember at least one of the books had a couple of scenes with a "cone of silence" much along these lines.

    Anyone inside the field could communicate with each other; anyone outside the field couldn't hear them. For added security, the conversants would face the inner wall (iirc the "cone of silence" was walled on three sides) to prevent lip-reading - something that this approach to the idea doesn't cover.

    Of course, there's nothing preventing you from simply holding your hand over your mouth...

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:17PM (#27899185) Journal

    Judging by the descripton this device apparently operates by beaming additional sound at the people who are not supposed to be in a conversation, rather than attempting to cancel the conversation at their ears. So this is a selective noise generator.

    It's equivalent to creating enough background noise to drown out the conversations, but doing it selectively at the ears of the victims. Of course this means increasing, rather than decreasing, the noise level of the environment, and doing so with snippets of conversation that can ALMOST be understood - resulting in increased stress both from the high level of noise and the failed processing in the victims' brains.

    Sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen.

  • Village Idiot sends word of a patent granted to MIT researchers

    The patent application published. It was not granted. It hasn't even been examined yet. Patent applications usually haven't by this point - examination happens 2-3 years after application. It is a simple procedure Slashdot; why can't you seem to wrap your head around it? I'll write it very BASICally so you can understand:

    10 Patent is applied for.

    20 It publishes at 18 months regardless if any examination is performed

    30 The patent office examines the patent

    35 If determined to be patentable (regardless of

    • I think there are some problems with your code - there is a compile error on line 35 with an open bracket, and line 40 can never be executed with the conditional as specified in line 35. :)

      Point taken though, a patent application is NOT a patent. There must be so much prior art on this concept, I can't see how it could be patentable.

  • ...is the ultimate cone of silence. Everyone can hear you but no one can understand you, and you can always claim you've been misinterpreted. Best of all it doesn't require any technology and it doesn't ever break down.

  • This tech would kick ass in the studio, or perhaps the theatre or practice room

    • This tech would kick ass in the studio, or perhaps the theatre or practice room

      Maybe if you wanted a recording with a deliberately high noise floor (a.k.a. "crappy recording"), or a very distracting performance/rehearsal. I would say to RTFA, but it's not worth it anyways.

  • Doesn't Herman Miller already offer a product that does something similar? http://www.bfionline.com/babble/ [bfionline.com]
  • I want something that cancels street noise inside my home. Is such a device available?

  • Why not an inverse wave form of the actual conversation?

    • by ozydingo (922211)
      Because it wouldn't work. First off, any error in the produced waveform, including latency which is unavoidable, and you're no longer fully canceling the sound--in fact you may be amplifying it at some frequencies. Also, unless the generated sound is coming from the same location as the to-be-canceled sound, then the phase difference (cancellation) depends on the listeners location, and again you will be selectively amplifying certain frequencies at certain locations.
  • 1. Just go into a bathroom,
    2. turn on the Shower spray,
    3. then you can have your private conversation,
    4. Profit . . .
  • Masking systems have been used for years in courtrooms and banks to keep people from hearing things they shouldn't. When the lawyers approach the bench, they turn on the system and it allows them to have a private conversation while the jury can't here it. Masking systems are also used in conjunction with paging/background music systems, and if it was installed properly, you don't even realize that you are listening to filtered white noise. No fancy "sensors" or crazy DSP (ok,just a little DSP).
  • I saw a demo of something very similar in 2006 at a medical technology convention. The basic idea was that when your ear is flooded with similar sound your brain cannot interpret the actual words of the conversation you're trying to listen to. They would record your voice, and then their software would chop it into random increments and play six simultaneous layers back over speakers. You could then have a phone conversation without people being able to understand what you were saying. It worked quite well
  • And I was 'That' close to inventing this myself.

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