Big Data // Big Data Analytics
News
8/5/2014
11:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Slideshows
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
Twitter
Google+
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Eavesdropping On A New Level

MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe research team demonstrate how to capture sound using video images of objects. Yes, plants will parrot what you say with more fidelity than parrots, under the right conditions.
Previous
1 of 7
Next

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This trite question masquerades as a conundrum, when it's really just vexing because of its vague construction and internal contradiction.

Nonetheless, this question can now be answered if there's high-resolution video footage of the toppling tree, even without an audio track.

Researchers from MIT, Microsoft, and Adobe have shown that they can recover sound from video imagery, a technique that promises to pique the interest of intelligence agencies and forensic investigators. While the technique will need to be refined to be practical outside the laboratory, it has the potential to enable retroactive eavesdropping at events that were videoed with sufficient fidelity.

Sound, of course, is how we describe vibrations we receive and perceive, typically through the air. When a sound strikes our eardrums, our eardrums move and we hear the sound (assuming the absence of impairment). And when sound waves strike an object, like a bag of potato chips, it too moves, imperceptibly.

But these vibrations can be perceived with a video camera, as Abe Davis (MIT), Michael Rubenstein (MIT/Microsoft), Neal Wadhwa (MIT), Gautham Mysore (Adobe), Frédo Durand (MIT), and William T. Freeman (MIT) have demonstrated and documented.

In a paper to be presented in mid-August at SIGGRAPH 2014, the researchers describe how they filmed a series of objects using both a high-speed video camera and a consumer video camera and were able to reproduce sounds that had been playing near objects using only video information -- the object's minute vibrations in response to the impact of sound waves.

The technique "allows us to turn everyday objects -- a glass of water, a potted plant, a box of tissues, or a bag of chips -- into visual microphones," the paper explains. "Remarkably, it is possible to recover comprehensible speech and music in a room from just a video of a bag of chips."

The science is similar to that employed by laser microphones, which use light to measure sound vibrations. But laser microphones are an active form of surveillance. Analyzing objects for vibrations can be done after the fact, given video of sufficient quality and source audio of sufficient volume.

The experiment focused on high-speed video -- up to 6,000 frames per second -- but the researchers also had success retrieving audio from video captured on consumer-grade video cameras shooting at 60 frames per second.

US intelligence presumably already has more sophisticated eavesdropping technology. A decade-old patent application arising from work at NASA, "Technique and device for through-the-wall audio surveillance," describes a way to listen in on even soundproofed locations by using "reflected electromagnetic signals to detect audible sound." But MIT's Visual Microphone technique could become a useful addition to an already formidable set of surveillance tools.

Take a look at how it works.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

Previous
1 of 7
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
mak63
50%
50%
mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
8/7/2014 | 6:03:00 PM
Re: Old News?
I was thinking the same. Actually, the movie Eagle Eye came out in 2008.

I believe fiction, once again is ahead of its time.

If I understand the science behind the recovery of sound from video, at least a little, I believe we're talking about similar technologies, even though the audio on the video -that the computer gets- it's a live transcription

 Here's the clip
kharrison212
50%
50%
kharrison212,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2014 | 1:16:31 PM
Re: Fascinating
All you are doing is looking at a speaker, when sound hits something the force causes movement, if you capture the movement with another medium then you can re-create the sound that was required to move the object.  It was noted here that a teapot didn't respond, the teapot doesn't vibrate as much to low level pressure waves.  Non porus surfaces will move the most because they have to reflect all of the energy, a porus material will allow some (or more) to leak through.  Research into this dates back to World War II and the acoustic theories are taught in engineering courses worldwide.  The only thing new here is people think the plants are understanding what is said.  When the plant responds with a new sound to acknowledge an understanding then it becomes newsworthy.
Lorna Garey
100%
0%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2014 | 1:27:42 PM
Re: Practical, non-evil applications?
This is often true of scientific discoveries -- first we find new things out just because we can, then the commercial use follows, or not. And that's fine.
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2014 | 1:23:27 PM
Re: Practical, non-evil applications?
Funding for the research comes from the National Science Foundation and the Qatar Computing Research Institute. I don't see what the commercial applications would be. 
TerryB
50%
50%
TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
8/5/2014 | 1:23:08 PM
Old News?
Didn't the movie Eagle Eye, which was 2007 if I remember right, have a scene which showed this technology idea?

In the scene people were in shielded room intended to limit eavesdropping. The renegade computer used it's cameras thru a window to capture vibrations in a glass of water and used it to listen in. Until now, I didn't really know you could do that.

Now I'm worried the rest of movie is true.  :-)
DarioI887
100%
0%
DarioI887,
User Rank: Strategist
8/5/2014 | 1:05:36 PM
Re: So now...
I get the impression we left America behind somewhere in the last 13 years.  Whatever it has become now is not what it used to be.

 

In a sense, the terrorists won after all.  They didn't change America themselves, they just brought a few buildings down.  But they indirectly changed America through the proxy of our own government.

 

And.  Worst of all -- we let them.  Tragic.
AndrewE937
100%
0%
AndrewE937,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/5/2014 | 12:29:19 PM
Re: So now...
With all this high resolution, high frequency, LIDAR, chemical sniffers; etc. why don't we have a way to detect IDE's? Are we really only concerned with invading privacy? It is the right of everyone to practice what they believe until it harms others. That was the founders definition of freedom. We have troops dying and all the government wants to do is chill everyone's speech. Yes, extremists are awful. They launch rockets and invade each other but this is the American experiment is it not?
DarioI887
100%
0%
DarioI887,
User Rank: Strategist
8/5/2014 | 12:21:08 PM
So now...
In addition to dumping our cellphones outside, we have to remove all the plants and bags of potato chips if we want to have a private conversation.  Lovely.
Laurianne
50%
50%
Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2014 | 12:02:22 PM
Fascinating
Puts talking to your plants in a whole new light. Seriously, you do have to wonder how the technology could be applied in Big Brother ways.
JakobS797
50%
50%
JakobS797,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/5/2014 | 11:45:15 AM
Eavesdropping
Where do they find these sickos that come up with these ideas? Trolling looney bins?
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
6 Tools to Protect Big Data
6 Tools to Protect Big Data
Most IT teams have their conventional databases covered in terms of security and business continuity. But as we enter the era of big data, Hadoop, and NoSQL, protection schemes need to evolve. In fact, big data could drive the next big security strategy shift.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Nov. 10, 2014
Just 30% of respondents to our new survey say their companies are very or extremely effective at identifying critical data and analyzing it to make decisions, down from 42% in 2013. What gives?
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.