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This Smart-Lamp Prototype Knows When You’re Having A Meaningful Conversation

As technology encroaches further and further into our daily lives, it is more necessary than ever to know when to press pause and disconnect. But Skylar Jessen, a student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, recently presented a prototype that lets technology understand those moments for us. Jessen developed a “smart lamp” he claims will actually have the ability to detect when the people around it are having an important conversation and will disable all digital notifications until the chat is over.  Essentially, it serves as a digital “Do Not Disturb” sign.

Jessen insists that the smart lamp does not have speech recognition and no conversation data will be stored. Instead, the current prototype, which is integrated with other smart devices, analyzes the longevity of a conversation to know when to “activate.” When the device senses that two people have been talking for more than 30 seconds, it wirelessly disables their digital notifications. Once the conversation has stopped for two minutes, the digital notifications are turned back on. Jessen thinks that, with refinements, the technology could detect if an interaction is more serious and temporarily shut itself down. How? The answer is found in a psychological concept known as “mirroring.”

“Mirroring” is a term for when two people are really connecting during a conversation, and begin to unknowingly mirror each other’s voices and movements. Using this theory, Jessen believes the built-in microphones in his smart lamp could potentially analyze the frequencies of people’s voices and only shut down when it finds two people have begun “mirroring” each other.

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It’s a clever idea. And considering that there are more than 11 million Alexas sold in the U.S. and that the average American household owns 2.4 smartphones, it’s one that’s exceedingly necessary. Disconnecting is becoming more and more difficult. While kids may get much of the blame for screen addiction, parents are guilty of ignoring their kids for their screens. If we have trouble disconnecting, why not have technology do it for us?