What just happened? Microsoft has filed a patent for technology that suggests users of voice assistants whisper commands while inhaling. The idea seems to be an attempt to make voice input more discrete, but does it?

Several companies have been pursuing efforts to put people more at ease when speaking to their voice assistants in public. Google has worked considerably on making its AI more natural conversationally. Another company called Furhat Robotics thinks that giving voice assistants a face will make people more comfortable. Regardless of the method of getting there, most firms are looking at ways to encourage people to be more overt using AI in public.

Microsoft, on the contrary, seems to be moving in the opposite direction. According to a patent filed by the Redmond-based tech giant, ingressive airflow whispering is the answer. The suggestion is that users could whisper to their voice assistants thus making it less obvious they are using an AI. Only instead of whispering normally, the user would whisper while inhaling.

The reason for using ingressive airflow is that it causes less distortion for the microphone. Unfortunately, the mic must be placed very close to the mouth for it to pick up the commands. The design calls for the placement of the pick-up device to be within two millimeters.

The filing shows several types of devices that could be embedded with the input technology including smartwatches, rings, TV remotes, and small handheld microphones. However, none of these designs seem all that discrete.

It is debatable whether someone would feel more or less comfortable holding their watch right up to their mouth rather than just issuing an audible verbal command. Alternatively, it could be useful for times when normal voice levels are not quite appropriate, like when others are sleeping.

Microsoft has not announced any devices using the technology, and as a patent, there is no guarantee that it will ever come to market. If it does, I’m not sure I’d be one to embrace it. I’m quite comfortable remaining a closet user.