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What are phone jammers trying to tell us?

Mike Elgan | May 31, 2016
Cellphone jammers are illegal. So why do people keep using them? (Hint: because tech moves too slowly.)

The problem that Nicholl and Chappelle are trying to solve is that other people's smartphone use is annoying and distracting, respectively.

Silencing all the phones is the wrong way to go. The better solution is the coming age of hearable computing, which I wrote about last year. This new generation of wearable processes all of the sounds coming into your ears before letting you hear them. By using a smartphone app, you can adjust and customize what you hear and what you don't. When these smart earbuds hit the market for real, Nicholl will be able to produce his own peace and quiet, and Chappelle -- and his audience, for that matter -- can choose to hear only his own brilliant humor, plus the sounds of laughter and applause, regardless of whether someone in the audience is rudely chatting on the phone.

3. The 'phones-let-you-cheat' problem

Cheating is a massive problem worldwide, especially for entrance exams for colleges, universities, professional training and the military.

India's northernmost state, Jammu and Kashmir, is tackling the problem of cheating by installing 800 cellphone jammers at testing centers statewide.

One recent high-visibility case illustrates the problem: A student in India named Wasim Ahmed at Nawab Shah engineering college was caught cheating. He kept a smartphone in his underwear with a microphone in his shirt and a Bluetooth receiver in his ear. He whispered the questions to a confederate on the phone, who gave him the answers.

Behavior like Ahmed's is repeated around the world, though the specifics may vary.

Earlier this month, a scandal erupted at Thailand's Rangsit University medical college when four students were caught cheating on entrance exams. Two of them wore glasses with built-in cameras, and three wore smartwatches. The glasses captured photos of the exam questions. On a break, the test-takers handed the glasses to someone who took them and sent the photos to confederates at an ad-hoc "command center" located elsewhere. The accomplices researched the questions and texted answers back to the test-takers, who could see the SMS messages on their smartwatches. The good news is that they were caught. (These aren't the kind of people you want controlling your general anesthesia during surgery.)

The problem of using Internet-connected devices to cheat is so bad that Iraq actually turns off much of the nation's Internet to prevent sixth graders from cheating.

Internet-assisted cheating appears to be a major problem. But the real problem is that most exams are built around an antiquated concept of learning. If cheaters can cheat by getting data from the Internet, there's no reason to memorize that information in the first place.


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