Let HAL Moderate Your Next Meeting

By Chris Jozefowicz|Thursday, March 31, 2005

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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