Microsoft patents auto-censorship

October 21, 2008 // 9:02 a.m.

Tags: #automatic #bleep #censor #censorship #microsoft #patent

If you like your video streams to turn the air blue, you might want to avoid content from Microsoft in the future: the company has received a patent on technology designed to automatically censor words from an audio stream.

According to Ars Technica, the company has been granted the patent by the US Patents and Trademarks Office and is now free to implement the system – which uses a predefined blacklist of banned words and a real-time monitoring system which can immediately react and censor the offending word – in its existing products as well as apply it to future technologies.

While it's unlikely we'll see the technology featured as an Xbox Live plugin – although perhaps that's not such a bad idea given some of the people I seem to end up playing Halo 3 with – the tool would have applications in video and audio streaming services that offer user-generated content over which the site has little or no control. Perhaps in the future YouTube will have an automatic beep machine that enables the easily offended to browse its contents without fear of profanity emanating forth from their sound system. The system could also see use in live TV broadcasting, where employees are often used to hit a literal big red button when profanity is used and the 'live' content is delayed by several seconds to allow them time to react.

The technology could also have a darker side, of course. While the patent talks about using the system to prevent the dissemination of profanity, there would be nothing to stop other words from being entered into the blacklist – or even entire sentences. As the technology works for both pre-recorded and live audio streams, it even opens the gate to a world where our telephone conversations can be monitored and censored in real-time.

Can you see real-world applications for this technology that don't have you reaching for your tinfoil hat and disused bomb shelter in the mountains? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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