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Article posted May 14 2008, 11:49 PM Category: Big Brother/Orwellian Source: Ottawa Citizen Print

Why you might soon think you're hearing things

A technology that beams sound directly into people's ears has advertisers salivating, but as Vito Pilieci writes, critics fear yet another invasion of privacy.

After more than a decade of development, technology that directs a beam of sound straight into a person's eardrums is ready for primetime.

The new technology has attracted some critics who worry that it gives advertisers far too much power to invade a consumer's privacy when promoting their products where shoppers congregate.

Hypersonic sound technology aims to eventually make blaring loudspeakers and broadcast marketing messages obsolete in stores and malls.

In December, the A&E Television Network used the technology on a busy downtown Manhattan street to promote its show, Paranormal State. The new program is about ghost hunters who investigate haunted locations, and people walking by an advertisement heard voices whispering, "Who's there? What's that? It's not your imagination."

The technology works by beaming waves of hypersonic sound at a pitch that is undetectable by the human ear. The waves continue until they smash into an object such as a person's body. The waves then slow, mix and re-create the original audio broadcast. If the person steps out of the waves, they are no longer obstructed and are rendered inaudible.

The promotion was an enormous success. New Yorkers heard about the freaky advertisement and flocked to its location to experience it first-hand.

"The technology really basically made it seem like the sounds were coming from inside your head," said Lori Peterzell, vice-president of marketing for A&E.

"It was totally a freak-with-your-mind experience. It was a great way of building buzz about a show that didn't exist yet."

Using the technology, marketers can target an audio message at one person in a crowd of hundreds, leaving everyone around that person unaware.

"If you really wanted to bother a lot of people and inject sound into a lot of people at once, the best way to do that is with a loudspeaker. Everyone hears it. This prevents the noise, it doesn't add to it," said Joseph Pompei, founder of Holosonic Research Labs, Inc., one of two companies in the hypersonic sound business.

Mr. Pompei's company manufactured the technology that A&E used. "That's the main thrust of this technology -- delivering sound to a very specific area and preventing noise from going elsewhere."

For example, nightclub-goers could hear music delivered through hypersonic methods, while people living nearby or those passing by the club would not hear anything. Similarly, an ambulance using a hypersonic sound siren wouldn't disturb households -- only cars in front of the ambulance would be able to hear the siren.

While more high-profile uses of the technology may still be a few years away, Mr. Pompei said the A&E marketing initiative has led to a deluge of calls from marketers interested in trying it out.

His company's technology is in use at the New York City Public Library, where a giant wall of TVs constantly broadcasts news for people to watch. The hypersonic technology allows people to hear the broadcast if they stand in front of the TV, while those wandering through the library's aisles hear nothing.

The technology has also been used at the Tate Gallery in London, where units broadcast an audio tour of Picasso paintings without disturbing others who would rather not listen to the narration. In Canada, Mr. Pompei's technology is used at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta as well as the Royal Alberta Museum.

Marketing experts say that with interest in the technology ballooning, consumers are likely to soon be bombarded with messages from pop machines, automated tellers or mall vendors informing shoppers of the latest sales.

"It's a tool well worth investigating," said Ken Hardy, a professor of marketing with the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. "People are substantially suggestible. I think this has quite a bit of potential. The directionality makes it much more acceptable."

But the technology scares some consumer groups, including the U.S.-based Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, which is raising legal questions about what rights people have when it comes to being forced to listen to audio broadcasts in public.

"While most people are capable of shutting their eyes and thereby blocking out external images, it is not so easy to shut one's ears," says the group's website.

"If the First Amendment (regarding freedom of speech) blocks the government from putting words in a person's mouth, does it also block the government from putting words in a person's head?"

Mr. Hardy believes the concerns may be a bit overblown. He said as long as the ads are tasteful and low-key -- they can't feature people shouting at consumers or beam loud music into their heads -- they will likely be well received. Consumers are already bombarded with audio advertisements and hypersonic technology could help to alleviate some of that noise, according to Mr. Hardy.

Some businesses have already opened their arms to the new technology. American Technology Corp., the other maker of hypersonic audio technology, has seen its products installed by retailers across the United States.

U.S. grocery stores such as Kroger and Myers have installed hypersonic sound technology along with big-screen TVs to entertain customers.

"Our technology allows you to put these at checkout counters and other locations on site so you can have several LCD flat panels coupled with the audio track and just have the sound go to the customer and not distract the employees who don't want to listen to the same audio over and over for eight hours," said Robert Putnam, an ATC spokesman.

"You will be able to have several different messages and not sound like a video arcade when you walk through the front door."

Mr. Putnam said his company is also in talks to provide the technology to banks, so they can integrate it into automated tellers and provide customers with information updates or assistance.

Mr. Putnam said American Technology would like to see its technology built into everyday items such as computers, portable media players and even cars, making headphones and speakers obsolete.

"Price is still the key to get this into automobiles and other areas, the price has to come down. We are on track to do that," he said. "I still think we are a couple of years away from really breaking it out."

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Comments 1 - 6 of 6 Add Comment Page 1 of 1

Posted: May 15 2008, 11:19 AM

There is a massive array of military technology being released through commercial channels and without a real economy it threatens mankind's very existance.

In a real economy if I supplied a product that people liked they would return, if I abused my customers I would lose them and the business. Instead in comes profit, tax and increasingly the state invades the business wanting a bigger share. I must grow to survive, cut corners to survive and ultimately neither I nor the business can survive. The very reconciliation that is now in progress.

The economic war is part of a military invasion except that as it is based on an unsustainable system, at the point the fictitious wealth peaks the system is on the verge of total failure. Abusive elites have no function in a stable model, they therefore require solutions at the back end of the collapse to ensure they maintain control of all life systems that people remain enslaved.

History is littered with an array of the boom and bust cycles, these aren't a natural cycle but evidence of the manipulations that have gone on unseen right through the ages. Until now that is.

Posted: May 15 2008, 12:09 PM

7565 This technology is intended for weapons use and has already been tested as such.

What is more sacred than a mind? If someone violated the privacy of my thoughts in such a way, it would be difficult to refrain from violence although I am a pacifist. This is what war-agenda corporatist-fascism, the inevitable result of unregulated capitalism, has brought us to.

Posted: May 15 2008, 9:24 PM

The potential exists with this technology to destroy minds. Ever wonder where all the true grassroots revolutionarys have gone? The furtive war of today is to control an electron; be it one existing as a thought in your head or as information being passed to operate electronics. Total discipline is required to beat this newest invasion of self. Your thoughts may not be your own.

Posted: May 16 2008, 6:16 PM

7461 This is voice to skull military production of mind control.
use it and abuse it that is destiny.Unnecessary to use on general public.Brainwashing lundry mats is what this unintelligent invention will ultimately turn grocery stores into.We shop due to need not greed. Bet..if used on me ...I will sue the hell out of ya!
Stay free and have a blessed day.
James Smith

Posted: Jul 14 2013, 7:09 PM

187114 What a wonderful this this will be for government brainwashing and crowd control. Half of the wackos believe they are hearing voices anyway.

All hail Big Brother! Or is it all heil?

Posted: Jul 14 2013, 10:56 PM

65110 Stuff that has existed for decades and probably influenced certain serial killers more than we can imagine.
Comments 1 - 6 of 6 Page 1 of 1

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