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MIT Device Calls Phone Users on Their Conduct

The latest breakthrough in cell phone etiquette may be a device with an inelegant working title: the Jerk-O-Meter.

The Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has converted a hand-held personal digital assistant (PDA) into a device that uses mathematical algorithms to analyze speech patterns, tone of voice, stress levels and empathy.

"When you are excited you tend to speak really fast and you tend to sort of interrupt the other person sometimes," project leader Anmol Madan, an MIT grad student, tells Andrea Shea. "If you're distracted you're probably taking sort of long pauses and going 'ah, okay, you know whatever.'"

Based on what it's hearing, the device offers four pieces of advice on how you're keeping up your end of the conversation:

1. Don't be a jerk.

2. You could do better now, couldn't you?

3. Now we're getting somewhere.

4. Wow, you're a smooth talker.

Madan says he imagines equipping cell phones with Jerk-O-Meter functions. The categories would serve as reminders to professionals whose paychecks depend on charm and civility over the phone.

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