Basically every aspect of cellphones has improved astonishingly in the past few years, except for the actual phone call part. Cypher, a brand-new startup, has some tricky software it says can fix our muddied mobile conversations. In a short live demo in NYC, it sure seemed up to the task.
The standard practice in cellphone noise cancellation involves blocking out extraneous sounds. It's a brute, imperfect process, one that requires adding specialized hardware into a smartphone's already-crowded guts. Cypher's approach is both more precise and easier to pack, using a purely software-based algorithm that claims to recognize the unique sonic patterns of human speech. In other words, Cypher uses a phone's existing processing power to identify the speaker's voice and listen only to that, ignoring all the other sounds coming into the microphone.
In a brief demo at Gizmodo's NYC office, the tech did exactly what it promised. Cypher's VP of product John Yoon hit the city streets with a weirdly old, Cypher-equipped Samsung Galaxy S III, chatting with me on my personal cellphone. As John toggled the software on and off, from my end it sounded as if he was stepping in and out of the world's quietest library: Construction noise, loud music, and reversing trucks all disappeared, leaving the clear sound of John's voice unaltered. You can check out some video demos of the software in action at Cypher's website.
CEO and co-founder John Walker explained that the software works where current noise-canceling features don't, eliminating unpredictable, random sounds and masking moving noise sources with ease. And it's not just limited to phone calls, boasting a 35 percent voice-recognition improvement when used in conjunction with Siri.
Cypher's technologists say the software can eliminate 99 percent of background noise. It's so powerful, they say, that in military demos officials asked them to add some of the extraneous noise back in, to give the person on the other end of a call some contextual awareness when talking to a soldier on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, you can't get Cypher on your phone right now. The company is in talks with phone makers and carriers, hoping to get the software built into the next round of smartphones. If it happens, maybe we'll actually start using our phones to call each other again.