Next Up for Big Brother: Recording and Transcribing Public Conversations

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Matt Lease, a computer scientist at the University of Texas, is working on ways to literally record all human conversations no matter where they take place. But his research is being funded by the Department of Defense, raising the question of how such a technology might be used in the hands of the government.


Lease’s plan is to utilize crowdsourcing, voice recognition software and everyday devices like smartphones to gather human speech, whether in a business meeting or on the street, and store it somewhere so people could access what they said anytime.


He told Wired’s Danger Room that he saw the work as both a “need and opportunity to really make conversational speech more accessible, more part of our permanent record instead of being so ephemeral, and really trying to imagine what this world would look like if we really could capture all these conversations and make use of them effectively going forward.”


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) liked Lease’s idea so much it gave him a $300,000 grant to support his efforts.


If successful, this new system could raise “some thorny legal and social questions about privacy,” wrote Robert Beckhusen at Wired.


One example cited by Lease involves “respecting the privacy rights of multiple people involved,” and how to gain permission of everyone talking before capturing and storing a conversation. In the hands of spy agencies, this is not expected to be an issue.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Darpa Wants You to Transcribe, and Instantly Recall, All of Your Conversations (by Robert Beckhusen, Wired)

Crowdsourcing Document Relevance Assessment with Mechanical Turk (by Catherine Grady and Matthew Lease, University of Texas at Austin) (pdf)

Public Buses in Many U.S. Cities Will Soon Be Monitoring Private Conversations for the Government (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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