Japanese researchers have created a hand-held gun (pictured above) that can jam the words of speakers who are more than 30 meters (100ft) away. The gun has two purposes, according to the researchers: At its most basic, this gun could be used in libraries and other quiet spaces to stop people from speaking ? but its second application is a lot more chilling.
The researchers were looking for a way to stop ?louder, stronger? voices from saying more than their fair share in conversation. The paper reads: ?We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking. However, some people tend to lengthen their turns or deliberately interrupt other people when it is their turn in order to establish their presence rather than achieve more fruitful discussions. Furthermore, some people tend to jeer at speakers to invalidate their speech.? In other words, this speech-jamming gun was built to enforce ?proper? conversations.
The gun works by listening in with a directional microphone, and then, after a short delay of around 0.2 seconds, playing it back with a directional speaker. This triggers an effect that psychologists call Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF), which has long been known to interrupt your speech (you might?ve experienced the same effect if you?ve ever heard your own voice echoing through Skype or another voice comms program). According to the researchers, DAF doesn?t cause physical discomfort, but the fact that you?re unable to talk is obviously quite stressful.
Suffice it to say, if you?re a firm believer in free speech, you should now be experiencing a deafening cacophony of alarm bells. Let me illustrate a few examples of how this speech-jamming gun could be used.
At a political rally, an audience member could completely lock down Santorum, Romney, Paul, or Obama from speaking. On the flip side, a totalitarian state could point the speech jammers at the audience to shut them up. Likewise, when a celebrity or public figure appears on a live TV show, his contract could read ?the audience must be silenced with speech jammers.?
Then there?s Harrison Bergeron, one of my favorite short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. In the story?s dystopian universe, everyone wears ?handicaps? to ensure perfect social equality. Strong people must lug around heavy weights, beautiful people must wear masks, and intelligent people must wear headphones that play a huge blast of sound every few seconds, interrupting your thoughts. The more intelligent you are, the more regular the blasts.
Back here in our universe, it?s not hard to imagine a future where we are outfitted with a variety of implanted electronics or full-blown bionic organs. Just last week we wrote about Google?s upcoming augmented-reality glasses, which will obviously have built-in earbuds. Late last year we covered bionic eyes that can communicate directly with the brain, and bionic ears and noses can?t be far off.
In short, imagine if a runaway mega-corporation or government gains control of these earbuds. Not only could the intelligence-destroying blasts from Harrison Bergeron come to pass, but with Delayed Auditory Feedback it would be possible to render the entire population mute. Well, actually, that?s a lie: Apparently DAF doesn?t work with utterances like ?ahhh!? or ?boooo!? or other non-wordy constructs. So, basically, we?d all be reduced to communicating with grunts and gestures.