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Spies listen in by watching the sound of a bag of chips

MIT’s ‘visual microphone’ is the kind of tool you’d expect Q to develop for James Bond, or to be used by nefarious government snoops listening in on Jason Bourne. It’s like these things except for one crucial thing—this is the real deal. Describing their work in a paper, researchers led by MIT engineering graduate student, Abe Davis, say they’ve learned to recover entire conversations and music by simply videoing and analyzing the vibrations of a bag of chips or a plant’s leaves. The researchers use a high-speed camera to record items—a candy wrapper, a chip bag, or a plant—as they almost invisibly vibrate to voices in conversation or music or any other sound. Then, using an algorithm based on prior research, they analyze the motions of each item to reconstruct the sounds behind each vibration. The result? Whatever you say next to that random bag of chips lying on the kitchen table can and will be held against you in a court of law. (Hypothetically.) The technique is accurate to a tiny fraction of a pixel and can reconstruct sound based on how the edges of those pixels change in color due to sound vibration. It works equally well in the same room or at a distance through soundproof glass. The results are impressive (check out the video below). The researchers use their algorithm to digitally reassemble the notes and words of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” with surprising fidelity, and later, the Queen song “Under Pressure” with enough detail to identify it using the mobile music recognition app, Shazam. More via Singularity HUB.

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