In an effort to protect the privacy of even conversations held in open, public spaces, two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are attempting to patent a real-life “Cone of Silence.”

A “cone” in name only, the device actually leverages a complex series of audio-sensing computers to locate sources of noise, then counteracts it with a subtle masking noise of appropriate frequency, wavelength and volume.

Unfortunately, the technology includes quite a few hurdles before it can work its magic. As New Scientist points out, any room in which you might want to use the sound dampening device would need to feature “light-switch-sized units that include a microphone, a speaker, an infrared location sensor and networking circuitry connected to a server” — a far cry from the simple plastic cone seen in the original Get Smart television show.

Unsurprisingly, some in the audio masking industry have their doubts about MIT’s new tech. “I wish MIT the best of luck with their idea,” says Klaus Moeller, founder of Canadian sound-masking firm Logison. “It sounds very expensive and not very practical in an office environment.” Moeller cites the objections architects might have to mounting a large amount of heavy equipment on the walls of an office building as proof of the system’s impracticality.

Assuming the “cone” does come to fruition though, the really interesting possibilities are what it might eventually lead to. Protecting the privacy of employees is all well and good, but imagine this technology applied to an apartment building. Instead of being woken up at night by the endless bass beats of the teenagers above you or the shrieks of your next-door neighbor’s amorous new girlfriend you could simply flick a switch and fall back to sleep.

Given that the only other polite alternative is lighting the entire complex on fire and giggling maniacally as your former cohabitants are immolated in their sleep, I, for one, applaud MIT’s work here.

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