The short answer is: quite possibly, yes.
Kazukata Kurihara, a researcher at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, has revealed his new speech jamming gun. The device is designed to stop someone from speaking from more than 100 feet away.
The 'gun' works by using a microphone to pick up the sound and then relay it back 0.2 seconds later. This has an unusual effect on the human brain, confusing it so much that it makes speaking impossible.
The combination of the sound of your own voice and the echo shuts down the part of your brain responsible for conducting speech, rendering you mute. This is called Delayed Auditory Feedback, and although it causes no physical damage, is still an unpleasant experience.
The new device has raised quite a few concerns about its possible application.
Although the creators have explained that it is intended for use in silent spaces like libraries, the paper accompanying the device has left many troubled with its suggestions.
"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," the paper reads.
Whilst this mostly suggests the device be used to shut up obnoxious debaters and conversation hogs --something we have all wanted to do -- the idea of enforcing a reasonable discussion is unsettling.
Extreme Tech's Sebastian Anthony put it simply: "If you're a firm believer in free speech, you should now be experiencing a deafening cacophony of alarm bells."
Anthony makes a firm argument for the implications such a device could have, going on to suggest it could be used to silence audiences during political broadcasts.
Tecca's Fox Van Allen also suggested "a protester or speaker at a political rally could be silenced just for having unpopular views." He goes on to compare its potential use to that of sound cannons and other sonic weapons.
Admittedly, the more I look at possible uses for a device like this, the less I can think of any that are actually ethical. Even using the 'gun' to silence places like libraries feels uncomfortable to me.
There is always a situation where communication is necessary, and forcing students to resort to grunts and flailing just to borrow a book is bizarre. The video used to show off the device features an annoyed young student shutting up a girl talking on her phone with his jammer.
Funny, yes. In reality, perhaps not.
It goes without saying that this device should not be made available to individuals, I would think.
Usually, if people are causing that much of a disruption, a firm "shush!" from a librarian will do the trick. No need to violate anyone's rights.
Even the more positive applications are bleak.
While imagining silencing the London rioters last year might seem like a satisfying, non-violent option, it strikes me that this device would be both ineffective and unethical, even in that scenario.
Depriving someone of their voice would only frustrate them and push them towards basic forms of communication, like a swift punch to the jaw. Equally it robs them of their freedom of speech. Everyone has a right to an unpopular opinion, after all.
Looking past the hypothetical, dystopian implications of the device, I am struggling to think of a single practical use for such a thing.
The only place I think this device could be used without complaint would be an exam hall. Even then it would be a pointless waste of money, as it doesn't work on persistent coughs or throat clearing.
Some might be getting nervous at the possibilities of big corporations or businesses endorsing this 'silencing gun'. I cannot imagine anyone using this device without causing a huge uproar. Any company that attaches itself to this product would be accused of depriving people's free speech in no time.
Simply put, I think it is an interesting idea without any real world applications.
I do not think we should be getting concerned just yet. Censorship is a hot issue at the moment, and whilst we have celebrated the quick drop of SOPA and PIPA, I think those are more likely to become a reality than this.
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