Japanese scientists win spoof Ig Nobel award for 'SpeechJammer'

Koji Tsukada

Two Japanese researchers won the spoof Ig Nobel acoustic prize for developing the SpeechJammer, a device that confuses and stifles a person speaking by sending the speaker a delayed recording of their own voice.

"One scenario is that you can use this in a meeting room where chairs have buttons to stop excessive speaking," Kazutaka Kurihara, researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, told Kyodo News ahead of the Harvard ceremony, adding that the device could make such meetings more "fair."

The 22nd annual event to award the prizes, which the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research gives in 10 categories as a parody of the Nobel Prizes, was held at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre.

It was the sixth straight year for an Ig Nobel prize to go to Japanese recipients.

Kurihara and his partner Koji Tsukada, researcher at the Japan Science and Technology Agency, were honored for creating the machine and for addressing the important issue of "overly talkative people," according to a source familiar with the Ig Nobel selection process.

Accepting the prize, Kurihara and Tsukada told the enthusiastic crowd of about 1,200 about why they created the gadget and when the speech went beyond the allotted one-minute mark, Tsukada used the SpeechJammer on his partner.

The idea of the SpeechJammer came about in 2010 and the team worked together to design a portable "speech jamming" gun, which they first considered calling the "silencer," but then thought that "jammer" was a more accurate description of how it works.

According to Kurihara and Tsukuda, the system is based on the concept of delayed audio feedback, a psychological phenomenon where the brain is affected or "jammed" by hearing its own "feedback" or voice, artificially delayed. The device makes the speaker hear their own voice a few hundred milliseconds later.

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