Mar 12 2010

Technology Gives Sound To Silent Speech

It’s already annoying enough dealing with the Bluetooth People.  You know the ones – talking to thin air, sometimes even right at you (ugh), while they’re on the phone.  But that’s nothing compared to what’s coming: people having a full phone conversation by silently moving their mouths.  Yes, it’s being developed, and here are the details.

 Listening To The Silence by Manu Pombrol

In a post I wrote for online magazine uTweet.it, I evaluated the four major current and developing technologies for inputting text.  When it came to speech-recognition, I was decidedly unimpressed.  As I stated in Future Typing: Four Ways to Input Text:

While iPhone apps like Vlingo adapt the concept for text messaging, most people texting are not in a situation to speak the conversation aloud.

And I was right – for a hot minute.  Researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany are now developing a device that will speak in digital voice the sounds you would have made if only you’d actually spoken.

It works through a technique called electromyography, which records the electrical signals produced by moving muscles.  The muscles of the face record unique signatures for their myriad movements, and computers can reinterpret these as intended speech.  The current focus for the technology is to allow people to silently speak into the phone and have the intended speech rendered in digital voice at the other end.  While this will certainly be handy in crowded or noisy places, I see another use for this device.

Instead of being reserved for phone conversations, I say we should adapt this to speech-recognition software.  From simple software commands (which could really be spoken aloud) to full dictation for texting, emailing, and composing letters, electromyography and its developments could allow even more work to be done on the fly and in public.  Not that we need to blur the lines between work and home any more, but you could conceivably dictate a memorandum or project outline while shopping for groceries.

Security could also be revolutionized.  Imagine reading aloud your credit card number to pay a bill over the phone – on the bus or in a park.  Or “speaking” your pin number to an ATM machine.  Wait, ATM machines will disappear with cash…But you get the idea!

This particular device still requires nine leads attached to the face – not exactly practical for everyday use.  It won’t be long, though, before it’s commercially viable and available.  How would you use it?  What problems could you see it creating?

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Photo credits: Portrait of a Businesswoman by hermannyin


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