back to article Lip-reading smart speakers: Just what no one always wanted

Your safe, cosy home is to become a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Don't worry, this is quite normal. It's how you will communicate with your next-generation smart devices. Some 14 years after the publication of NASA-linked research on sub-vocal speech recognition, the genre is currently enjoying a bit of a revival. …

  1. Captain TickTock

    I'm sorry, Dave

    I can't do that

    1. dnicholas Bronze badge

      Re: I'm sorry, Dave

      Open the refrigerator, Hal, I'm starving!

  2. Franco Silver badge

    Brilliant. These jaw rattling devices will be cutting edge and cool, so hipsters will want them for about 5 minutes until everyone has them, at which point we'll be right back to the analog vs digital debate and headphones will become retro chic.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      I seem to remember reading about Edison (who was totally deaf in one ear and had very little hearing in the other) biting on the reproducer (oh, er, missus) of his phonograph in order to better "hear" the sound.

      Nothing new under the sun...

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Beethoven used to do something similar in his later years - he held a stick in his mouth which was connected to the soundboard (if that's the correct term) of the piano

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Yes, soundboard is the right word for that part of a piano.

          By the way, I own and use a pair of these bone conduction headphones. They're not exactly meant for music with much base, and they're not going to provide extremely high audio fidelity, but I enjoy them for listening to things while outdoors. I can listen to podcasts, music, or just the GPS's spoken directions, but if someone addresses me to ask me something or warn me that I'm about to do something risky, I still hear them. It is a very subjective thing, and plenty of people will not want that. Still, I get benefits from them.

          1. Richard Jones 1

            My last experience with bone conduction of sound was when my broken leg was repaired and they needed to add another screw to better hold the bits together while the anaesthetic effect weakened. Once is enough, thank you.

          2. Martin

            Pedantic mode on

            Base - support for something

            Bass - low frequency notes

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: Pedantic mode on

              Good point. I know the difference between them, but I failed to properly check my speeling. Have an upvote.

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: Pedantic mode on

              Base - the main ingredient or fundamental part

              Base - a predominate group of enthusiastic devotees

              Base - the lower part of a heraldic field

              Base - the starting point for an action

              Base - a permanent military installation

              Base - a number that is raised to a power

              Base - the root of a word

              Base - having a pH greater than 7

              Base - cytosine, guanine, adenine, thymine, and uracil

              Base - electrode that modulates the current flowing through a bipolar junction transistor according to the voltage applied

              Bass - tasty fish

              Bass - one of several musical instruments

              Bass - lowest human singing tone

              Bass - coarse, tough palm tree fiber

              And yet somewhat strangely, when discussing any of the above in print, all y'all will know EXACTLY which one I'm talking about regardless of spelling thanks to context. Ain't English grand?

              1. Tikimon Silver badge

                Re: Pedantic mode on

                Bah, doesn't matter anyway. ALL your base are belong to us!!!

                1. jake Silver badge

                  Re: Pedantic mode on

                  That, Sir, is a rather base comment.

          3. Rol Silver badge

            Living cheek to jowl in a high density slum, or student accommodation as it is often referred to, I came up with the idea of attaching a microphone to the inputs of each headphone speaker.

            I could listen to my music at ear bleeding levels without disturbing my neighbours, while still being able to hear ambient sounds like fire alarms, telephones and knocking on my door.

            This idea went further to incorporate a more focussed input, whereby microphones sat next to doors, phones and alarms thus allowing me to be aware of just the important stuff and not have to listen to flirty Sue's latest romantic entanglement thudding in through the ceiling.

            And it went further, as I realised my first prototype would be ideal for a silent disco, where we could all listen to music at deafening levels, and still be able to talk to each other..... and listen to Sue's latest orgasmic conquest.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There is also a BAHA - Bone Anchored Hearing Aid - which also works the same way.

        Although, don't google it while eating lunch!

    2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Gramophone connected via bluetooth to a jaw rattling speaker.

      Just as our grandparents used.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Jawbone rattling...

        *turns bassssss up to 11*

        Blew tooth.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        jaw rattling speaker?

        I was under the impression it was illegal for a BT speaker to produce notes below about 150Hz. My daughters got the ones they'd been begging for for xmas and yet they still come and use the jack socket to connect to my antique hifi which has two more instruments in the bass!

        1. LewisRage

          Re: jaw rattling speaker?

          >it was illegal for a BT speaker to produce notes below about 150Hz

          Why would that be a thing? A MiniRig2 will demonstrate that this is not a fact.

          BT might not be the best for audio fidelity but given that most are listening to compressed streams anyway it is awfully convenient.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: jaw rattling speaker?

            How well does your MiniRig2 reproduce the whoosh sound?

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "so hipsters will want them for about 5 minutes until everyone has them"

      How would you know? Surely they'd be hidden inside their beards.

    4. Steevee

      "Brilliant. These jaw rattling devices will be cutting edge and cool, so hipsters will want them for about 5 minutes until everyone has them, at which point we'll be right back to the analog vs digital debate and headphones will become retro chic."

      I think the hipster's greatest problem will be how a computer can read facial muscles through a thick, lush beard.

  3. chivo243 Silver badge

    subliminal facial muscle movements instead

    So, people with a facial tic would get some really weird responses?

    1. Paul Herber Silver badge

      Re: subliminal facial muscle movements instead

      It looks like you are winking. Can I help you with that?

    2. LewisRage

      Re: subliminal facial muscle movements instead

      I'm guessing they would, in much the same as people with parkinsons will struggle with a generic touch interface and people with speech impediments struggle with voice control.

  4. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother


    Also absolutely dystopian. I was just saying earlier that if the Stasi & DDR still exisited that everyone would get free Smart speakers. Private Enterprise (IoT, Smart speakers, smart TV, Android, Windows 10) is saving the state a fortune. GCHQ, CIA, China & Russia must be delighted.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Wonderful

      Well, the Stasi and DDR are not still here... maybe, though a lot of government agencies still are that have an interest in watching everyone. Maybe call them "junior" Stasi?

      As a side note, there will not be anymore mumblings about the house between wife and husband as the mumbles will be immediately known to the other person. I suspect the divorce rate will increase and we'll need more lawyers.

      So we end up with a win for government and win for lawyers. What's not to like?

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Wonderful

      Well with UK plod trialling face recognition on the streets in advance of and the absence off any regulatory control what do you expect?

      At least here in Scotland the polis bowed to pressure and put their tech kiosks on ice while the regulations got sorted out. With not just the suspects but the victim's and witnesses tech being seized and copied now deterring some from making complaints due to the privacy violations involved (when you privacy has just been intimately violated having your tech and private life violated as well would indeed not feel an attractive option).

    3. LewisRage

      Re: Wonderful

      Google just gave me a smart speaker.

      Not that I'd accuse them of being the modern Stasi...

      ...not publicly anyway.

      And not in my home either, now.

      Or indeed not when I am carrying my phone with me.

      Or when I am in ear shot of anyone elses android phone.

  5. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "He also hopes you enjoyed this week's 1980s electropop."

    Yes. Yes, I did.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      enjoyed this week's 1980's electropop

      ...and yet Kraftwerk merely got a mention in relation to juddering car fittings....

      Luckily, I don't read 'Something for the weekend' because of the music recommendations.

      But maybe in despite of...

  6. IsJustabloke
    Thumb Up

    Top Song Choices!

    See Title.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

      Re: Top Song Choices!

      & a fine belated tribute to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk who sadly passed earlier this year.

  7. spold Bronze badge

    Open the front door Alterego

    If you are out of earshot in the kitchen on no account discuss whether it is malfunctioning...

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge


    thank you, and that's 400 bogtrolls on their way to you...

  9. macjules Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    You think that is bad?

    Wait for the smart toilet that analyses your regular output and automatically adjusts your Ocado/Amazon orders to reduce your alcohol intake or increase your porridge order for more roughage. Undoubtedly comes with an 'App' that nags you to go to the loo at certain times. Imagine trying to open your "Smart Fridge" only to find that it has locked itself under orders from the SmartLoo to stop you having any more booze.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: You think that is bad?

      Alexa... Order me a chainsaw.

    2. Ripper38

      Re: You think that is bad? Smart Fridges?

      Already got a smart fridge monitor its called a "Wiley Intuitive Fractious Entity"

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: You think that is bad? Smart Fridges?

        Me too. It comes with variable options of the iTeenAger App that seem to leave the fridge door open, fail to tell you that all the milk has been drunk and has a immediate response to anything wrong by saying, "It wasn't me who did it".

        Bit like having your fridge being run by a combination of Windows 10 and Norton 'Security'.

  10. stiine Silver badge

    can I buy your car?

    The interior of my car buzzes and rattles enough already, thank you. I only have to change down a gear and its armrests and air vents spontaneously break into what sounds – appropriately – like the middle bit of Kraftwerk's Autobahn.

    Can you get it to play RadioActivity?

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: can I buy your car?

      Can you get it to play RadioActivity?

      That would not be as impressive as getting it to play morgenspaziergang

    2. james_smith Bronze badge

      Re: can I buy your car?

      Mine plays Einsturzende Neubaten on the rare occasions it gets up to motorway speed. British car manufacturing at its 2970s finest.

      1. Stork Silver badge

        Re: can I buy your car?

        You are ahead of your time

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "In space, no one can hear you scream"... except your laptop, but you put that bit of masking tape over the camera for privacy

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Space Is Only Noise If You Can See" - Nicolas Jaar

  12. Stoneshop Silver badge

    accidentally tell Alexa

    to buy 400 rolls of toilet paper simply by clearing your throat. farting.

    1. M.V. Lipvig

      Re: accidentally tell Alexa

      Would that not order air freshener instead? Unless it sounded juicy, in which it would also order new undies.

  13. LDS Silver badge

    "consumer-facing technology"

    Very good definition, as all of them looks to be trying to glue something on your face...

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: trying to glue something on your face...

      That doesn't sound very friendly. But hugs are a good thing, not like nasty sticky glue. How about we make it more like "hugging your face" instead? We could call them, um, face-..., er, oh well, I'm sure we will think of something eventually.

  14. Giovani Tapini Silver badge

    recognition of sub-vocal communication eh....

    Will it translate teen "ugh" and "meeeer" sounds as they get up at 2pm?

    Will it be used to record all the other things you think about like a sort of non-verbal thought reader? Isn't it bad enough already that you have to shout at a grubby plastic dome to call down the shopping gods because you can't be arsed to get out of your armchair? No? you would rather go round your house looking like you are becoming an early adopter of the BORG having your under-the-breath mutterings captured by the hive?

    No now you will voluntarily submit to having all those "sub-vocal" communications recorded and potentially replayed where you used to say under your breath "what a ****wit ****** is!" while you were in the kitchen, now it can be innocently blurted out by the machines for you.

    Who on earth wants this technology? Given that most AI's think a Scottish accent is a fatal speech impediment I don't hold out much confidence for the people who have genuine and often "non-standard" challenges with speech or worse ... grammar. Good luck Yoda with your "four hundred toilet rolls there will be master Luke".

    And as for using parts of the car as a speaker diaphragm. Although technically possible, has anyone thought this through? Anything touching the dashboard will start to move, keys, coins, the pile of general matter in the glovebox will start to bounce to your tunez. Even for relatively modestly powered systems that don't require underlighting on your car can bounce coins 4-5 centimetres if placed on the diaphragm. think about it just for a moment. You are approaching the toll bridge, fumble around for the change, put it on the dash and it's fired back at you and all over the car like confetti while you are doing 70 in the wrong lane.

    Try door panels at least, they are marginally more likely to make a stereo output without doing more than shaking the can of lemonade you put in the door pocket.

    Just because these things can be done, does not make them sensible or useful.

    1. Olivier2553 Silver badge

      Re: recognition of sub-vocal communication eh....

      Just because these things can be done, does not make them sensible or useful.

      But the new way of doing things is not making something useful, it is making something different.

  15. _LC_ Bronze badge

    Won't work.

    Unlike the humans who can actually do this, an AI is incapable of finding the correct context.

    1. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Re: Won't work.

      What humans do, computers will be able to do it too someday. It's just a matter of time.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: Won't work.

        I tend to agree, but with the rather significant caveat that "Now is not yet the time.".

      2. Spamfast Bronze badge

        Re: Won't work.

        What humans do, computers will be able to do it too someday. It's just a matter of time.

        One of the things is to get a computer to believe it knows what being conscious feels like without actually being able to define what consciousness is. It will then declare "I'm pink therefore I'm Spam.", laugh inappropriately loudly in the cyberdoctor's waiting room while reading Douglas Adams, set its own screensaver to something that says "I am silently correcting your Python" and start self-medicating with inappropriate inputs.

        At this point I'll book in with Dignitas as surplus to requirements.

      3. M.V. Lipvig

        Re: Won't work.

        By the time computers are that capable, they will decide that it's time to mass produce Schwartzenegger duplicates, who will wander around naked demanding "yawr clouths, gib dem to meh."

        1. Spamfast Bronze badge

          Re: Won't work.

          Schwartzenegger duplicates, who will wander around naked demanding "yawr clouths, gib dem to meh."

          ... and subsequently start making cringeworthy comedy films with Danny de Vito.

          ROTM indeed.

        2. Totally not a Cylon

          Re: Won't work.

          All this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

          Are you alive?

          or do you just think you are?

          Maybe we're already AI's created by a previous race of humans?

      4. MrMerrymaker Bronze badge

        Re: Won't work.

        Anything man can do, a machine one day will?

        Bang back a load of acid and dance in a forest?

        Superglue their cut shut?

        Wildly overestimate another form's ability to replace them?

        That'll be something, yes, something indeed :)

  16. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    internal articulation

    Often when you are silently reading, these muscles move unconsciously anyway

    Right, so when I'm chatting on the phone to someone and cooking at the same time, they're suddenly going to hear "finely chop the onion, dice the carrot and pepper, and cook until soft" in the middle of a discussion of the latest blockbuster film.

  17. Potemkine! Silver badge

    For the ones who like electronic music, there's an interesting set of covers of 'Enjoy the Silence'.

    The CD is unsurprisingly titled Enjoy the Silence

    Enjoy also the music!

  18. druck Silver badge

    Here's a thought

    If it could detect the sound of my bones creaking in bed in the middle of the night, caused by my 3 year is climbing over me to get to mummy, and lure him back to his own bedroom with the theme music of Paw Patrol, that would be a real use for the technology.

  19. Daedalus Silver badge

    Don't Panic!

    I seem to remember Zaphod Beeblebrox sitting stock still listening to the Sub-Etha Waveband broadcasts on the Heart of Gold because the gesture-sensitive user interface would interpret the mere lifting of an eyebrow as a command to change channels.

    This is why you have to be careful about thoughts speculating about the possibility of crossing your mind.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Don't Panic!

      That was of course a sendup. That kind of thing featured regularly in SF before the world ever heard of Douglas Adams.

      Dabb's story also reads like a sendup. Not one of his better efforts, IMHO.

  20. Daedalus Silver badge

    Good vibrations

    A long time ago I bought a "bone conduction" FM radio receiver in the US and shipped it back to Blighty. What I didn't reckon with was the crap reception of FM radio in the home country, even down in the Smoke where, according to the inhabitants, there is the only real civilization. To be fair, in the US you can usually expect to see your transmitter, if not right away then just around the next bend. At night the red aviation warning lights provide a comforting glow.

    1. wjake

      Re: Good vibrations

      FM is, after all, a line-of-sight transmission. I don't know where they put the transmitters in Blighty, but we usually use high places of tall towers!

  21. Gnoitall
    Big Brother

    The Sweet, Sweet '80s

    Cheers, Dabbsy, for all the wonderous 1980s memories.

    Except for that one unfortunate year.

    “It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself—anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called.”

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    New does not equal good


    New ways of getting very bad sound reproduction, and invading people's privacy.

    What's not to like?

  23. Bruce Ordway

    MOMA exhibit

    In the early 70s I visited MOMA in New York.

    One exhibit was a large wooden table with indentations for placing your elbows. Once in position, covering your ears with hands would reveal the music via you bones.

    I remember another exhibit of a black painting by Ad Reinhardt. If you looked at it long enough, a smaller black square, slightly different value would slowly reveal itself.

    Amazing "stuff" for young teenager from the U.S. Midwest to see & hear for the first time.

  24. AK565

    Pedantic mode engaged:

    Anyone with a significant hearing loss will tell you that speechreading (the lips plus the entirety of the visible head and neck) does not yield anything vaguely close to the amount of information thos technolofy purports to take advantage of.

    1. trapper

      I'm one, and I'm laughing hysterically. Speech reading depends on context + partially-heard speech sounds + (to get accurate) knowing the other's individual speech quirks + prediction + likelihood-testing. What you SEE is integrated into a whole that includes all of the above; then there's a bit of trained neurological synesthesia and out comes hearing. Sort-of. My wife and I have fun when I tell her what I think she mumbled and she cracks up at the garble. And here I'm all trained and so forth. I'll believe a machine can do it when it successfully "hears" a mumbler with an accent, foreign-language word order and misphrasing and a droopy mustache covering half his mouth.

  25. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Ayone else remember the Bone Fone?

    I remember seeing ads for it in OMNI back in the late 70s:

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Ayone else remember the Bone Fone?

      I had one; it might still be in a box in my parent's attic (no doubt next to the roller skates and Campagnolo bike parts I collected to "upgrade" my mid-'70s PX-10E). Was OK for listening to baseball, the news or talk shows, but that was about it.

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Ayone else remember the Bone Fone?

      I bought one while on assignment in El Paso and had it shipped back, since it didn't arrive before I had to return. As I noted in another comment, it lacked the FM sensitivity to cope with the UK's less than stellar coverage. The bone conduction thing was oversold as well. I got better sound flipping it so the 2 inch speakers pointed up instead of down. And it ate batteries, in the days before rechargeables were available.

      Nice looking cover sleeves, though.

  26. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    And best of all, that loud-mouthed git on the train might stop yelling to the rest of the carriage about the details of his recent visit to the proctologist.

    No... No he/she won't

  27. skeptical i

    "I hear the secrets that you keep ...

    ... when you're talking in your sleep"

    -- The Romantics (also from the 1980s)

    400 rolls will be the least of your worries.

  28. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    It can be no accident

    that "sEMG" is distressingly close to "smeg!", an expletive which might well be heard more often if this gets implemented in my house (I will probably end up giving it a reprogramming it will never forget using a big axe)

    I'll be going. The one with the Red Dwarf DVDs in the pocket please

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: It can be no accident

      "smeg" isn't an expletive. It's a pseudo vulgarism.

      1. Daedalus Silver badge

        Re: It can be no accident

        ' "smeg" isn't an expletive. It's a pseudo vulgarism.'

        Whatever it is, I heard of someone using "SMEGMA" as his New York licence plate for years before he was rumbled. More recently an MD with the plate "XX XY" got a nasty letter saying that "XXXY" was offensive. Several appeals later, he got the plate back.

  29. d2

    tip of the iceberg?

    Wireless Technology:Ultra Convenient. Endlessly Entertaining. Criminally Instigated.Terminally Pathological.

    By Peter G. Tocci

    The intent of this article is to show that wireless technology is, without remedy other than termination, one of the most devastating environmental and health threats—and threats to personal liberty—ever created.

    Included is discussion of the criminal deceit employed by U.S. Government agencies, concealing awareness (beginning at least a decade prior to marketing) and ignoring/dismissing voluminous scientific evidence, of severe health impacts of radiation such as that emitted by wireless infrastructure and devices.

    Peer-reviewed studies were published from the 1950’s up to the initial wireless rollout in Orwellian 1984 (with many thousands since). It follows that the industry also practiced deceit at the outset. It suppressed findings from, and attempted to discredit, a 5-year study project it was forced by circumstance to fund and initiate nearly a decade later (3G era).

    Specific human-health effects of mobile telecom and WiFi are identified. Emphasized, however, is the far-reaching, quite probably fatal, threat to environment – all species, with the possible exception of some microorganisms...

  30. stevebp

    What date is it?

    Wow - did no-one consider this might be an April's Fool?

  31. scotj46

    Again your taste in music is impeccable :)

  32. Potemkine! Silver badge

    "Enjoy the Silence', punk-hardcore version

    1. jake Silver badge

      Looks like Depeche Mode's boring same ol' same ol' can be woken up. Who knew?

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