10 of the Craziest Discoveries of 2012

A Machine that Can Disrupt Speech by Making You Hear Your Own Delayed Words
The SpeechJammer makes you hear your own words, played at a slight delay -- just enough to irritate you and make you stop talking. Photo courtesy Kazutaka Kurihara

Don't you hate it when people are talking in the library when you're trying to study, or chatter through a movie? Or what about colleagues who start talking in a meeting and don't know when to let someone else have the floor? Maybe one day, you'll be able to solve these problems by shooting the offenders with a SpeechJammer gun.

Two Japanese researchers invented a machine that painlessly makes people stop yammering by forcing them to listen to their own spoken words at a slight delay. The device consists of a direction-sensitive microphone and direction-sensitive speaker, which can be set up in, say, a meeting room. The same technology can also be placed into a portable, gun-like device [source: Kurihara].

If someone won't stop talking, the device is turned on, aimed at them and activated. Everything the person is saying can then be heard by the person at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds, which so disturbs people they stop speaking. Only the speaker is affected. This creative invention received the 2012 Ig Noble Acoustic Prize. Ig Noble awards are given to encourage scientific research and reward the unusual [sources: Kurihara, Sinha].