Danny Hillis Invents The Cone Of Silence For Herman Miller

from the quiet-now... dept

A few years ago, the New York Times went around asking various famous people what one invention they wished the world would create for them. Bill Joy’s contribution was that he wanted “the cone of silence” — the wonderful invention from the TV show Get Smart that let people talk to each other without anyone else being able to overhear them. While some office workers have learned that things like instant messaging can create a virtual cone of silence, there was apparently still demand for the real thing. Who better to create such a thing than Danny Hillis? Working with Herman Miller, the furniture people, Hillis’ Applied Minds is finally coming out with its first commercialized product: the Babble — designed to make conversations around you fade into nothingness. It would be interesting to see this in action. The device apparently tries to take the voices that make up a conversation and then “multiply and scramble” the sounds to those outside of the conversation area. Think of it as an attempt at “noise canceling” a conversation by randomizing it and playing it back at the same time. In effect, the conversation becomes a type of white noise, blended with the actual conversation, making it difficult for outsiders to pick up on what’s being said — sort of like how it’s difficult to pick up on the details of a conversation near you in a large crowd. Still, you have to wonder (a) if it really works and (b) if there are unintended consequences of using such a thing. If anything, it sounds like it could be quite annoying. The random voices would just make it sound like a crowd — and while it may disguise the conversation, it might be even more distracting. Of course, with Herman Miller involved, perhaps the Babble will become the next hot item for over-funded startups — just like the Aeron was during the last bubble. Of course, time has shown that the Aeron was a good investment, so maybe we should all be stocking up on these devices as well.

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Comments on “Danny Hillis Invents The Cone Of Silence For Herman Miller”

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Rich Skrenta (user link) says:


Sounds like a clever analog to scratching out written text to obscure it — it’s much easier to write random letters over existing writing to obscure it, than to try to scribbed it out completely. Overlaying letters on top of letters quickly degrades the visual parsability of text much quicker than a scribble pattern. Sounds like they’re using the same approach with spoken words, very clever.

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