Have you ever noticed online ads following you around that look eerily similar to something you recently talked about with your friends and family? Microphones are built into almost everything today, from our phones, watches, and TVs to voice assistants, and they're always listening to you. Computers are constantly using neural networks and AI to process your speech, in order to obtain information about you. If I wanted to prevent this from happening, how could I do it?
In the past, as shown on the hit TV show "The Americans," you played music too loud or turned on the bath water. But what if you didn't want to constantly scream over music to communicate? Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a new system that generates quiet sounds that you can play in any room, in any situation, to prevent smart devices from eavesdropping on you. And it's easy to implement in hardware like computers and smartphones, giving people the ability to protect the privacy of their voice.
"A key technical challenge in achieving this was getting everything to work fast enough," said Carl Vondrick, an assistant professor of computer science. "Our algorithm, which blocks an unauthorized microphone from correctly hearing your words 80% of the time, is the fastest and most accurate on our test bench. It works even when we don't know anything about the unauthorized microphone , like the location of it, or even the computer software that runs on it. Basically, it camouflages a person's voice over the air, hiding it from these listening systems, and without disturbing the conversation between people in the room" .