Voice-print machine aims to block out boring radio callers

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The Independent Online

An invention threatens to put an end to the scourge of boring callers who repeatedly plague radio talk shows with their asinine anecdotes.

An invention threatens to put an end to the scourge of boring callers who repeatedly plague radio talk shows with their asinine anecdotes.

The Canadian-designed telephone exchange can identify repeat callers by their voices alone, and hang up on them before they have the chance to inflict themselves – or their views – on listeners.

Developed by the switchboard company Mitel, the software builds up a digital voiceprint of every caller, which is added to a database. The person who receives the call can then decide whether to add them to an "exclusion" list – which could mean, at an extreme, that any call from that person will be almost instantly disconnected when they first speak.

Such a system could be a boon for talk radio stations, which rely on interesting callers but suffer from bores who will call from different places to defeat "caller ID" systems that would link them to their phone number.

New Scientist magazine reports today that the product has just been patented. The company points out that there should be no problems under any data protection laws, because the system does not identify people by their name. In fact, neither the switchboard system nor the person receiving the call need ever know the caller's name.

Yesterday, a radio engineer commented: "Our operators can judge pretty quickly whether a caller is someone we want to weed out."

Only about 5 per cent of callers persist through the standard queuing system that most radio stations operate during the day but that still leaves hundreds of calls that have to be filtered by human ear. The new system promises to make that process less painful though there is no guarantee that it will pull in any more interesting calls.

One British radio station said yesterday that its switchboard operators had hundreds of people who they knew never to let near the air. An engineer there said: "I'd certainly like to give that a go."

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