Microsoft's new 'What the @#%$*' censorship patent

You can thank prudent network censors that we don't hear any of George Carlin's so-called "Seven Dirty Words" on broadcast television. But live television broadcasts can sometimes foil even the best of censors. They only have a seven-second delay to bleep words. But thanks to Microsoft, censors may soon be getting a new tech tool to bleep blunders and zap foul language.

A patent filed by Microsoft describes a technology that makes it possible to censor, in real-time, an audio stream. The censorship is possible by analyzing the phonemes (sound syllables) which make up words and then can block sound combinations that create nasty words like the f-bomb and other profanity. Of course, because the patented system is sound based it could make for some entertaining censorships - think newscasters using the phrase "wings of a duck" or a "large ship."

The main use for the real-time censorship is probably meant to be live television and radio broadcasts. But if you've ever played a round of Halo 3 over Xbox Live can see how this technology could be applied by Microsoft for online videogames and other uses. Microsoft's own Xbox Live has become notorious for its foul-mouthed players, and a little real-time censorship could go a long way.

But censorship is a fine line to be walking. It's one thing to censor profanity, but once companies can start choosing which words to be censored they are on a slippery slope. Sadly I can also see how this technology could be used as a surveillance tool. Computerized eavesdroppers could listen into phone conversations and start recording the minute certain words were spoken.

There's a lot of good that censoring profanity can do, but we need to be careful to keep censorship just to that. We aren't China after all.

This story, "Microsoft's new 'What the @#%$*' censorship patent" was originally published by PCWorld.

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