Amazon was just awarded a patent for noise-canceling headphones that automatically click off if the ear buds process a certain sound pattern or keyword. Such as your name. Or "Fire!"
Originally filed in 2014, the newly awarded patent works as follows: “A predetermined word or phrase can be spotted within an utterance received at the noise-cancelling device, and in response, noise cancellation can be suspended or otherwise terminated.”
As written, the headphones will operate without needing full-fledged speech recognition. And the “keyword spotting” doesn't need to be limited to one word: the turn-off signal could be a series of words or even a phrase, like “lunch time” or “Did you mow the lawn yet?"
This new patent fits in with other recent Amazon plans: According to CNET, one of the two patent holders for the headphones worked on Alexa, the AI behind Amazon’s voice-activated Echo.
While the new concept works great for those of us who walk a bit too obliviously on a busy street (“Watch out!"), the idea seems ripe for abuse. For example, yours truly owns a video game system that occasionally “hears” a line on Netflix and takes those scripted words as an order to pause or switch screens. A noisy street might provide endless ammo for mistaken voice commands.
Not to mention "friends" who know your keyword — your sonic shield against the world will be at their mercy.