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The office may start to sound like a fun place with the development by an Australian university of laughter-recognition software.

SoundHunter was developed by computer scientists at Monash University in Melbourne to make it easier for employees to log on to computers in a network, New Scientist reports. The software recognises a person's voice or laughter and logs that person on to the nearest computer on a network.

According to New Scientist the voice or laughter is picked up with microphones on each computer and the individual is located by "intelligent agents," or pieces of computer code programmed to move through the network from computer to computer.

The agents travel to the computer from where the person's voice is loudest. In addition to voice or laughter recognition, the agents listen for footsteps to determine if a person is moving around the office, and by doing so track their movement to ascertain the direction in which they're going. Using this process, the agents can log users on as far as two computers ahead in the direction in which the user is moving, according to Monash University researcher Arkady Zalslavksy.

It is debatable if this form of voice recognition will takeoff and how comfortable people would feel laughing into a computer. Another major problem is that the program cannot accurately distinguish between people. However, Zalslavksy said the prototype shows that it is possible to marry sound recognition with intelligent agent technology.

SoundHunter, and voice recognition in general, is part of biometrics, or the use of technology to recognise human biological characteristics, physical or verbal, including voice, fingerprints, irises, retinas and faces.

With the heightened security awareness that came after September 11th, the use of face and iris recognition technology in airports, which had for the most part been confined to labs and Hollywood movies, was seen as a potential net to catch terrorists. While the technology has proven to insufficient for wide scale roll out, innovation within the sector is said to be rapid and the most significant recent development is the use of biometrics in passports.

The EU agreed in early July to embed chips containing biometric data in passports. It has provided €140 million in funding for a feasibility study. The information is to be contained in fingerprints and retinal scans in the passport. This form of data presentation on passports is expected to reduce counterfeiting and fraud. BT's research division BTExtact has developed a prototype of a biometric passport, which features information on a chip, with a hologram of the persons face on the same page of the passport.

In making to move to biometrics in passports, Europe is bound by a deadline set out by the US government. Countries whose citizens have visa-free travel to the US must issue passports with biometric identifiers no later than 26 October 2004.

In Ireland, on 21 July the European Biometric Forum will be held at Media Lab Europe in Dublin. International figures will come to speak at the forum on various aspects of the biometrics including Marek Rejman Green of BTExact, Russ Neumann of the Office of Science and Technology at the White House and Jason Kim of the Korean Information Security Agency.

© ENN

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