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Cone of Silence 2.0 91

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 rxmd ( 205533 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @02:43PM (#27898519) Homepage

    I raise your closed office door by 1 hidden mic.

    From the summary:

    they use a sensor network to work out where potential eavesdroppers are

    And from the article:

    Knowing the position of the computer, the sensors identify the person and map out the locations of people around them. Software assesses who is so close that they must be participants in the conversation, and who might be a potential eavesdropper.

    Good luck using this to defeat hidden microphones. And if you can identify the location of hidden microphones, you don't need a cone of silence to defeat them.

    This is more like a surrogate closed office door for offices without doors. Whether that makes much sense as a whole remains another matter.

  • by EvanED ( 569694 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [denave]> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @03:07PM (#27898727)

    I wouldn't say that learning ASL exactly counts as simple. (Fun though... I took a semester of it in college just for the hell of it and it was pretty neat.)

    But you could easily substitute "write what you want to say on paper, then shred it".

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:17PM (#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.

  • by Cedric Tsui ( 890887 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @04:40PM (#27899345)


    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...

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan