The world?s first lip-reading cellphone is being developed by researchers at Japanese cellphone maker NTT DoCoMo. All callers will have to do is mouth their words silently, and the phone will convert them to speech or text. This could put an end to having to listen to the personal details of other people?s conversations in subways, restaurants and on the street.
DoCoMo?s prototype figures out which words are being said by using a contact sensor near the phone?s mouthpiece to detect tiny electrical signals sent by muscles around the user?s mouth. The signals are then converted into spoken words by a speech synthesizer, or into text for a text message or email.
Engineers are still developing the lip-reading software for the project. They say a test model can now recognize vowels with what they call an acceptable error rate, and are now working on the tougher task of recognizing consonants. Lip-reading accuracy could be increased by using tiny cameras on the phones.
In Japan, cellphones are already banned on some public transport networks, and in many other places etiquette requires that people using a phone must hold a hand discreetly over their mouth.
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You will soon be able to silence the deafening racket of a jackhammer or the thumping beat from a nightclub without blocking the sounds you want to hear, according to Selwyn Wright, an engineer at the University of Huddersfield in the U.K. He?s developed what he calls the Silence Machine, which works by analyzing the sound waves from a noise source, and generating sound that is exactly out of phase with it and neutralizes the incoming sound waves. This means that a peak in the noise wave meets a trough in the anti-noise, canceling out the sound.
The concept is already in use commercially in noise-canceling headphones made to wear in airplanes. These cancel out the jet engine noise and let you hear the in-flight movie in peace. Flat-panel speakers that produce anti-noise have been installed in fighter plane cockpits to make them more comfortable for pilots.
But Wright?s system is the first one that can block out a particular source of noise so that everything but the unwanted noise will still be audible. His patented Silence Machine consists of microphones for sound sampling, a powerful computer for generating anti-noise, and loudspeakers for blasting the anti-sound at the incoming noise.
The size of the shadow areas where the sound and anti-sound waves cancel each other out can be varied by changing the number of loudspeakers or their positions. Any microphones or loudspeakers will work, says Wright, but the more directional they are in terms of sensitivity, the better the result.
Wright has already developed a Silence Machine for noisy factories. A smaller machine could be used to block out airplane and expressway noises, without affecting pleasant sounds such as birdsong.
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A recent survey has shown that Americans are getting ruder?maybe in response to too much noise.
79 percent of the 2,013 adults surveyed by telephone in January by the research group Public Agenda said a lack of respect and courtesy in American society is a serious problem. Sixty-one percent believe things have gotten worse in recent years. ?You really do see the majority of Americans pretty anxious about these issues,? says Jean Johnson, director of programs at Public Agenda. ?People do think this is an area of the society that they would like to see some improvement on.?
Poor customer service has become so common that nearly half of those surveyed said they have walked out of a store in the past year because of it. Half said they often see people talking on cellular telephones in a loud or annoying manner. And six drivers in 10 said they regularly see other people driving aggressively or recklessly.
Many people admitted to rude behavior themselves. More than a third said they use foul language in public. About the same percentage confessed to occasional bad driving. However, at least half of those surveyed think things have gotten better when it comes to the treatment of blacks, the physically handicapped and gays.
The results were remarkably consistent geographically, with little difference in rudeness between the heartland and the coasts. Only one issue, the use of foul language, was split significantly among regions of the country. While three out of four Southerners said it is always wrong to take God?s name in vain, half of those surveyed from the Northeast said that there is nothing wrong with it or that it falls somewhere between right and wrong.
The researchers followed up their telephone survey with focus groups held in Cleveland; Fort Lauderdale, St. Louis, San Francisco, Texas, Danbury, Connecticut, Fort Lee, New Jersey and Berkeley, California. In those discussions, some people blamed rudeness on overcrowding in malls, stadiums and other public places. Others said Americans? increasingly busy lives are making them ruder. One woman in Texas blamed Elvis. ?It was shocking when Elvis was shaking his hips up there, but now we see whole naked bodies,? she said. ?It started with Elvis, and that was a little overboard, but that was the beginning of what we have today.?
The people surveyed by Public Agenda had few solutions. Thirty-six percent said that when confronted with rude behavior, the right thing is to respond with excessive politeness. Twenty percent said it?s best to point out the bad behavior. But 42 percent said the best thing to do is just walk away.
Harvard University professor Robert D. Putnam believes the rudeness epidemic is a symptom of growing social isolation. In his 1999 book ?Bowling Alone,? he argued that television, automobiles and suburbanization have led to the decline of the community organizations that once held Americans together. ?That?s causally linked to all sorts of other bad things, like schools not working as well,? Putnam says. ?Lots of things are connected to this collapse of social connectedness.?
You can?t stop cellphone noise, but you can protect yourself from cellphone radiation with a Waveguard, click here.
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