Hearing voices (of advertisers)


Here’s an article about a sophisticated type of advertising which uses hypersonic sound:

New Yorker Alison Wilson was walking down Prince Street in SoHo last week when she heard a woman’s voice right in her ear asking, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” She looked around to find no one in her immediate surroundings. Then the voice said, “It’s not your imagination.”

Indeed it isn’t. It’s an ad for “Paranormal State,” a ghost-themed series premiering on A&E this week. The billboard uses technology manufactured by Holosonic that transmits an “audio spotlight” from a rooftop speaker so that the sound is contained within your cranium.

Hypersonic sound technology is discussed by Jonathan Moreno in his book Mind Wars (which I reviewed back in January). It uses sound waves that have been compressed into narrow beams which can then be projected to a specified location. The sound thus carried is audible only to the person or people within the targeted area, but not to anyone else. 

The projected sound is “contained within your cranium”, as the article says, because the beam actually consists of two separate sound waves, which merge when they hit an object, so that the pressure of the air surrounding the object (i.e. a person) to reproduce the sound.

Such technology is ideal for, say, audio guides in museums: a description of each exhibit could be projected to the appropriate area, so that only those people standing within a defined distance of the exhibit can hear it.

Hypersonic sound also has miltary applications. The U.S. Army is developing long-range acoustic devices for the targeting of messages during crowd control, and in noisy environments such as military aircraft. And high intensity acoustics can be used as a non-lethal weapon: a sonic bullet painful and disabling, causing loss of balance and vomiting when heard.

Serious ethical issues are raised by some of the potential uses of hypersonic sound, because the projected messages are imposed upon people against their will, and could perhaps be used to subtly manipulate behaviour. 


  1. #1 Nathaniel
    December 12, 2007

    “Serious ethical issues are raised by some of the potential uses of hypersonic sound, because the projected messages are imposed upon people against their will, and could perhaps be used to subtlely manipulate behaviour. ”

    How is that different from any other form of audio? No one asks to hear talking ads. Nor do they ask to be subject to so called “subliminal” messages in the majority of the ads they see/hear on the street. If anyone sees an ethical issue, it’s because they’re overly paranoid about people being able to beam messages “into their heads”.

    Neat technology though. I could certainly see how it could be useful.

  2. #2 Massimiliano Cuccia
    December 12, 2007

    But it is terrible! They want to drive me crazy!! sorry, a voice in my head say that I must be quite.


  3. #3 decrepitoldfool
    December 12, 2007

    I’m sure subtly manipulating behavior is just what the advertisers are hoping for.

    This technology might have a particularly cruel effect on someone with schizophrenia.

  4. #4 apy
    December 12, 2007

    New York City has enough half crazy homeless people, I can see this pushing some of them over the edge.

  5. #5 Katherine Sharpe
    December 12, 2007

    This sounds like my worst nightmare.

  6. #6 Caledonian
    December 12, 2007

    Serious ethical issues are raised by some of the potential uses of hypersonic sound, because the projected messages are imposed upon people against their will

    How is this different from 95% of advertising? Most of it is presented to us without our consent and cannot be easily avoided or ignored.

  7. #7 Dana
    December 13, 2007

    Seriously, someone must have studied the affect of dissonant stimuli on people with psychotic symptoms. The question is did they share those results with the ad people at A&E? While it’s very unlikely you’d have violence from this (most psychotics are not violent), I could easily see someone doing the unpredictable, such as running out in front of traffic.

    On the plus side, those who survive should be taken care of quite well. A&E is jointly owned by ABC Inc, NBC Universal, and Hearst Corp.–very deep pockets indeed. It would serve them right for promoting paranormal B.S.

  8. #8 JPF
    December 14, 2007

    I think people are really jumping to misdrawn conclusions about the abilities of the audioSpotlights .. how many of you have gone down to the billboard?

    Are you basing everything from one or two primary source articles biased (Gawker and AdAge).

    Have a quick look at a video regarding the technology and let me know if you still have the same concerns or misconceptions. Thanks.

    Maybe also have a look at my longer response to misconceptions and myths over here:

  9. #9 mefisto
    December 16, 2007

    JPF is right to point out that this technology doesn’t literally beam sounds “into” your head, etc. But the ethical concern is not with the technology itself (assuming it is safe to expose humans, animals, plate glass windows, etc, to these focused high-frequency sounds). The problem is that it is an unsolicited message delivered in a very public place. It’s street spam. Sound can’t be ignored the way a billboard can be ignored. (And most people already agree billboards can be intrusive.) The visual equivalent of this kind of advertising would be shining light beams in people’s faces so that the message is unavoidable. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk down a public street and encountering multiple inescapable audio ads? Congratulations, advertisers! You are now noise snipers.

  10. #10 Biomed Tim
    December 22, 2007

    OMG, this would be terrible. I can run away from a billboard or a loud speaker but it would be much harder to run away from a hypersonic gun pointed at me.

  11. #11 karl gadiano
    January 11, 2008

    I been experiencing this voices from the last year.

    im the father of all gods… the voices you may heared is from the work of angels or so called demons. they wanted me to do stuff which was positive and the negative thing about it was that it hurt your feelings and im scared to tell… all i know wus after i closed down all demension, it was the father of al goddesess and i been seeing stuff that was with the voices..its was the devil one of my son name paul gadiano..and so on…he did alot of things for me .. he got my power back..i was on pschyiatric hospital for 4 weeks thier i closed down demension.. they told me what to do and stuff!! and dats a bout it.. for more detail email me at

    this what happen to closed down…i had my son with me..i call upon him to help me out with to get my power back..its a long story..i might look human beeing to you but im
    it was negative at first then its was positive.

    i came down from earth… there another plannet i made like the father of all goddeses

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