IBM tries to patent teleconference sound effects
Turn your business calls into wacky morning radio show
When hosting a business conference call, there are two easy options for keeping participants interested and alert:
b) make farting noises at opportune moments.
While tried and true, option b comes with certain drawbacks. For one, the effort could get a gentleman sued by International Business Machines one day, should the method of inserting said flatulence be mechanical.
You see, the folks at TechDirt have uncovered a rather compelling patent application from Big Blue that claims invention of delivering canned sounds over the telephone.
The patent describes a device for "enlivening conference calls" by injecting novelty recorded sounds should the conversation fall into an awkward pause or silent boredom.
"I'm sorry, John was in a terrible accident last night."
"Oh my god..."
WOOP WOOP WAKKA WAKKA!!!
The device would use noise detectors to monitor phone lines for pre-determined periods of silence to play audio gags properly on cue. It could also make sounds at the request of participants, or even based on a certain noises associated with a selected individual.
"Depending on the context of the conference call, the participants of the conference call may experience boredom," the application warns. "As a result, the conference call may exhibit a considerable amount of silence or 'dead air' due to the lack of interest from participants. If interjections (e.g., laugh, cheers, or jingles), and the like, could be made during the conference call at times of boredom, the conference call may be enlivened and more interesting for the participants."
The patent application is credited to inventors Travis Grigsby, Steven Michael Miller, and Lisa Anne Seacat, on behalf of IBM. Alas, we were unable to reach the authors to see if the markedly sober company has ever put such a device into practice. (Although this journalist can testify, having been subjected to many-a IBM teleconference call, never once experiencing any effort from the Big Blue to arouse me from the inevitable conversational coma.)
Of course, most technologies described in the patent have been in wide use for decades (laugh tracks, for example). But the supposition that it's used for teleconferences in particular could theoretically give the application a pass. However, the filing notes it seeks "to cover such alternatives, modifications, and equivalents, as can be reasonably included within the spirit and scope of the invention" as defined by the claims.
And now we reach the potentially awkward moment of trying to wind down the story…
We probably could use a good sound effect right about now. ®
I thought that this had been around for decades
...in the form of automatic level/gain. It's a simple analogue feedback circuit that starts ramping up the gain of the microphone amplifier if the output stops peaking above a certain level. As a result, if there is a pause in the proceedings being recorded, the amplifier noise, background hiss, 50hz pickup and aircon etc swiftly fade up to audible levels and become obtrusive.
Still, with the new digital system in place, you could substitute the opening to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and get a similar, but more interesting effect. And if nobody has said anything by the time the choral section starts, it should be permissible to slip away and do something more useful and interesting with your time.
Paul4 got it in one
Rep @ Paul 4 for correctly noting that it is not up to the USPTO to 'judge' the subject or merit of patent applications, only the novelty and obviousness (and industrial applicability) of what they disclose.
Epic Fail (as usual) at the rest of the USPTO/patent system-bashers, who would do well to read up about it some more, rather than regurgitating the same old uninformed rants (yawn).
For that one by IBM, I'll raise you with 6,293,874 by Joe W. Armstrong (the likes of which cause far more of a 'volume' problem for the USPTO than the IBMs of this world). Or US2009195392 by Sony, if you prefer corporate targets.
I can dig up another 50,000+ like it if need be... But you'd do well to factor in that the USPTO (like any other Patent Office) must consider and prosecute each application on an equal basis (regardless of whether the tech is to kick your own arse or split the atom), lest they be accused of procedural violations and add that unnecessary headache to the pile of unexamined applications.
So, I'm awaiting news of ire directed at Mr Armstrong for wasting the USPTO's time (just as much as IBM, in fact I daresay more so) with baited breath :-p
Hey, it's Friday! 1st beer.
the video loop function with the well timed hmmm and aaah, noises while others speak, so it looks like someone is paying attention during the loo breaks.