Speech jamming gun: a step toward a dystopian society?

The world may not end this year, but we might end up living in a dystopian society anyway. It looks like Big Brother is taking another step forward.

I came across this article the other day that talks about the creation of a “speech jamming gun.”

Oh sure, while I want to shut up the annoying, shrieky people (or *coughmykidsinthestorecough*) I’m not entirely sure this is a good idea.

The story behind the speech jammer is this: Japanese researchers Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada created the SpeechJammer device based on the principles of Delayed Auditory Feedback (DAF). According to the researchers, DAF has been used successfully to treat stuttering. (Where they made the leap from “treat stuttering” to “forcefully shut people up” I’m not quite sure, but leap they did.)

And now they have two prototypes for this thing. One is stationary and is attached to a PC (presumably for meetings and other similar situations), while the other is a portable gun-like device (presumably for malls, parks, and other public places).

The basic idea of the SpeechJammer is that people find it hard to talk when their words are replayed to them after a time delay (Technology Review). The device has a directional microphone (for listening) and a directional speaker (for replaying), allowing the jammer to be up to 100 feet away from the jammee. The SpeechJammer will record you while you talk, then play back your words to you after an average delay of about 0.2 seconds. The time delay can be varied; the device is apparently most effective with a variable time delay. (It also presumably forces you to listen, because who doesn’t like hearing themselves talk, right?)

This, apparently, will discombobulate you enough to get you to shut the hell up.

On the surface, this may not seem like such a bad thing. But what chills me most about this invention are the researchers’ own words: “It is expected that the negative aspects of speech, which lead to all the problems mentioned above, can be relaxed by the ability to jam remote people’s speech” (p. 3, original paper) and “We utilized DAF to develop a device that can jam remote physically unimpaired people’s speech whether they want it or not” (ibid).

From my perspective, they seem to want to control “turn-taking” during meetings. They also seem to want to silence anyone who talks too much or too loudly in public.

Now, if the device’s creators want to use it like this, how long do you think it’ll take a politician, a dictator, or just an all-around douchebag to use it in similar and other, more repressive ways?

(I may or may not use this device to get my kids to shut the eff up while grocery shopping. Ahem. Does that make me a bad mom?)

The study’s results indicate that the SpeechJammer works best when someone is “reading news aloud” (as opposed to “spontaneous monologue”). Also, you can’t jam monosyllabic grunts like “ahh.”

So it looks like to escape the jamming and possible censorship, we have to go back to our caveman days and (re)learn to communicate using grunts.

References (not written in APA style because I’m too lazy to format it properly):

ExtremeTech: http://www.extremetech.com/computing/120583-new-speech-jamming-gun-hints-at-dystopian-big-brother-future

Technology Review (MIT): http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/27620/

Original paper (Cornell University Library): http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.6106?context=cs.HC



2 thoughts on “Speech jamming gun: a step toward a dystopian society?

  1. Holy carp, that’s freaky. Though admittedly there are times when I really wouldn’t mind having one of those. Teenagers yammering in the cinema, the idiot on the bus yammering into his phone non-stop, my ex-husband … Oh, did I say that out loud? 😉

    1. It is freaky, isn’t it?

      And heh–don’t worry, sometimes I’d like to have one of those to aim at my kids when they’re throwing fits while shopping.

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