In the days of the Wild West, a Texas town was in the middle of a riot. The sheriff had been injured, along with all of his deputies. In desperation, the city fathers telegraphed the Texas Rangers to restore order.
Shortly thereafter, a single Texas Ranger rode into town at a full gallop. Dismounting, he quickly sized up the mob and identified the main agitator. Walking up to the leader of the riot, the Ranger drew his six-shooter and shot the man dead. After a hush descended upon the mob, they quickly dispersed.
The city fathers were shocked at the violence and asked the Ranger why only one was sent. The reply came in a slow, laconic, Texas drawl…
“You telegraphed you only had one riot.”
The story illustrates one main point. Many disruptive groups have one main agitator. Take this person out of the equation and the situation tends to de-escalate. However, we are not in the Wild West and there is due process afforded to all citizens. Still, officers risk injury to themselves and civilians alike to reach that one person in the middle of the crowd.
Japan, the land of the rising sun, Godzilla, Pokemon, and Hello Kitty, has developed new technology. Two researchers created a “speech jammer” that can cause a person to stop speaking from 33 yards away without inflicting pain. Koji Tsukada of Ochanomizu University and Kazutaka Kurihara of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology are credited for inventing the device.
The pair published a paper available for download at Cornell University’s web site (http://arxiv.org/abs/1202.6106). In it, they write the following…
“In general, human speech is jammed by giving back to the speakers their own utterances at a delay of a few hundred milliseconds. This effect can disturb people without any physical discomfort…Furthermore; this effect does not involve anyone but the speaker. We utilize this phenomenon and implemented two prototype versions by combining a direction-sensitive microphone and a direction-sensitive speaker, enabling the speech of a specific person to be disturbed.”
Kurihara and Tsukada said, “There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts.” This is all well and good in Japan, whose society values conformity of the masses over personal liberty. I imagine use of the device in this country would be limited as an anti-riot tool rather than the electronic “sssshhhh!” of a librarian that the inventors recommended.
You can see a video demonstration of this new technology via a link at the bottom of this article.
Still, the device may have its merits. What do LET readers think? Under what circumstances does a device like this NOT infringe upon protected speech under the 1st Amendment? What are the legal risk factors a department might face by using a speech jammer?
Finally, would you recommend changing the invention’s name to Silencing Technology For Undesirables (STFU)?
Bruce Bremer, MBA is LET’s technology contributor. Bruce retired from the Submarine Service after 21 years of in-depth experience with complex electronic technology. Since then, he has been involved in fleet modernization and military research analysis. He teaches electronics and alternative energy at a Virginia college. Besides his MBA, Bruce earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer networking. He has been volunteering in public safety for many years.
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