If hot-desking is the bane of your life then software that automatically logs you onto the nearest computer could help. All you need to do is laugh.

Computer scientists at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, wanted to make it easier for staff to log onto networked computers. So they came up with SoundHunters, a program that recognises someone’s voice or laughter and works out which computer is nearest to them. It could then be used to automatically log them on to the computer.

Microphones on each computer pick up a person’s voice. The software recognises them and calculates where they are, using flocks of intelligent agents – pieces of discrete computer code that are programmed to move around a network from computer to computer. The agents close in on those computers where the person’s voice is loudest, until they pinpoint the nearest one.

If the person is moving around the office, the agents can keep track of them by listening to their footsteps. “Once the agents have worked out the direction the person is going, they would even be able to stay one or two steps ahead,” says researcher Arkady Zaslavsky. For example, the system could be used to follow an executive as they walked through an office, ensuring that their email was always available on the nearest computer.

For the moment, the laughter- recognition software is rather crude and cannot accurately distinguish between different people. But, says Zaslavsky, the prototype has done its job in showing that it is possible to marry sound recognition with intelligent agent technology.