Voice over

Researchers create a device that can put a person on mute. Illustration by Dogo.
Date:21 July 2012 Tags:, ,

Until now, the only guns that could stop a person from talking fired bullets (okay, we’ll discount stun guns). Now, Japanese researchers have created a nonlethal version. The SpeechJammer uses delayed audio feedback to reduce its target to a stammering mess. It does so by interfering with one’s ability to process what has been said, explains Shanqing Cai, a postdoctoral associate at Boston University’s Speech Lab (who was not involved in creating the device).

“When you’re producing speech, the brain tends to monitor the auditory feedback,” he says. “The previous words in a sentence are used as triggers for the ensuing words.” The SpeechJammer’s directional microphone records the target’s speech and re-broadcasts it on a speaker with a 0,1- to 0,3-second delay aimed at him or her. “The brain is essentially fooled into thinking the sounds or syllables it intended to produce have not been produced correctly,” Cai says.

That glitch causes the target to involuntarily stutter while the brain searches for the “correct” speech. Although the applications for this technology may seem Orwellian – a way to silence protestors – Cai predicts that the gun won’t be effective against crowds. The goal is to help facilitate discussion, not end it, says Kazutaka Kurihara of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, one of the inventors. – By Steve Rousseau

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