Microsoft Patents Audio Stream Censorship Technology

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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Microsoft Patents Audio Stream Censorship Technology


Microsoft [http://www.microsoft.com] has been granted a patent on technology for censoring audio streams in real-time, which could bring an end to those unpleasant online experiences with foul-mouthed f********s.

Microsoft originally filed for the patent in October 2004, according to an Ars Technica [http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20081020-microsoft-gets-patent-for-real-time-f-bomb-bleeping.html] report, describing it as as "automatic censoring filter employing a lattice comprising either phonemes and/or words derived from phonemes for comparison against corresponding phonemes or words included in undesired speech data. If the probability that a phoneme or word in the input audio data stream matches a corresponding phoneme or word in the undesired speech data is greater than a probability threshold, the input audio data stream is altered so that the undesired word or a phrase comprising a plurality of such words is unintelligible or inaudible."

The technology in question will presumably have applications far beyond just online gaming. Censorship of live television or radio will be considerably simplified, allowing for the elimination of live censors and broadcast delays, as will the imposition of censorship in areas where it has previously been impractical. "Humans are remarkably adept at identifying words and phrases that are considered unacceptable," the approved patent says. "However, for certain types of broadcasts, it would be preferable to employ a more automated approach that avoids the need to pay for or provide a human censor to monitor the broadcast, while still enabling the audio data to be censored at an appropriate level. For example, in massive multiplayer games, it would be impractical to employ a human censor to monitor the multitude of voice chat sessions that might be occurring at one time."

I've always found carpet-f-bombing an amusing part of the online experience, but obviously not everyone is going to feel the same way about it. Microsoft hasn't yet offered any details about how this technology will work, although the patent does describe an adjustable "probability threshold" that will increase or decrease the software's sensitivity to naughty words. As long as the technology can be controlled independently, or turned off entirely, by the end user, I think it'll be a real boon to online gaming. But I also have a vague concern that it could be used to impose choices rather than enable them. As the author of the Ars report, Jonathan Gitlin, wrote, "Think how valuable such a system might be to an authoritarian regime. As we've seen to good effect in Burma and elsewhere, the ubiquity of cell phones has been a good thing for dissidents who need to get their message out or organize themselves. The Great Firewall of China [http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org/] already blocks objectionable web content from reaching Chinese computers; what's to stop cell phones from censoring anti-government conversations too?"


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SimuLord

Whom Gods Annoy
Aug 20, 2008
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File under "much ado about nothing", since it's only a matter of time before someone gets fragged in a Halo multiplayer match because the filter prevented them from hearing a teammate yell at them to "DUCK!"
 

Retodon8

New member
Jun 25, 2008
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Although I personally always try (and sometimes fail) to not swear like an idiot, I think it's silly to want to automatically censor swearing.
Like SimuLord said, lots of potential for false positives, especially if you consider languages other than English.
English has lots of words that are bad words to the ears of non-English speakers, and vice versa.
This seems to be one of those things where the US overreact and the whole world will have to suffer for it.
 

the_tramp

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May 16, 2008
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How are they going to distinguish between the huge variety of accents? Draft in someone from every corner of the world and have them say 'fuck', 'shit' et al into a microphone?
 

Galletea

Inexplicably Awesome
Sep 27, 2008
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I don't see the point in it. Surely the games that make you swear are the 15+ ones anyway. Controlling what people hear can't be a good thing. Nor is it practical.
 

HomeAliveIn45

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Jun 4, 2008
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It'll never work, but it would still be funny if they replaced every "censored" word with the meowing of kittens.
 

Amnestic

High Priest of Haruhi
Aug 22, 2008
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Censorship: The solution to all life's problems. /sarcasm

Doesn't Xbox live have a report button for excessive vulgarity if you find it offensive? (Honest question, I might just be making that up) and even so, most if not all games have mute capabilities for other players.

How are they going to distinguish between the huge variety of accents?
They're not, and that's why this will never work. You're going to find a lot more scotsman screaming "FUCK!" into their microphone and then oddly switching to a different accent for the rest of the time. My obscenities generally sound more like "faark"(like aardvark!) than "fuck" anyway, so looks like this is already doomed for failure.
 

Retodon8

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Jun 25, 2008
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Also in written language people figured out to replace the U in the F-word with a *, or some variant of that.
Like the "faark" which may not be intentional, people will figure out how to slightly change their swears to get heard.
It's just what people do.

MS may have patented this technology, and if it works properly, it may have applications in other fields, but the way it's presented now, it sure sounds like a waste of money.
 

BobisOnlyBob

is Only Bob
Nov 29, 2007
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You've never seen me playing Sonic and the Secret Rings or Prince of Persia: Two Thrones. I have invented new racial ephitets to vent my rage at these games before now. The same applies with online games rated Teen.
 

L.B. Jeffries

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Nov 29, 2007
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Well, all you sons of unwed mothers had better not let your mom-fornicating bull feces bother me during Call of Duty 4. I might have to mictorate down your throat and show everyone what a differently-abled individual who copulates with your grandma you are and that you allegorically represent how a female genitalia would behave if it was playing me in Call of Duty 4.