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Technology

Let HAL Moderate Your Next Meeting

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In business meetings and in classrooms, big talkers can drown out quieter participants. Joan Morris DiMicco of the MIT Media Lab is tackling this social problem with Second Messenger, a computer system that readily shows who is getting cut out of the conversation.

Second Messenger uses microphones to record each participant in a meeting and creates graphic displays to identify different speakers. Over time, a computer screen builds up a picture of who is doing the most talking, by representing each person as a colored bar whose length depends on how much of the time he or she took center stage. DiMicco’s tests show that when people are shown this display during a meeting, alpha types tend to pull back, although wallflowers remain relatively quiet. Simply quelling dominant voices helps restore balance and allows for more informed decision making, she argues: “It’s dangerous to have a group where everyone is saying, yeah, yeah, yeah, and just agreeing with the majority opinion, because the majority opinion can be wrong.”

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