The Speculist: Voices in My Head, Mountain Lions in the Suburbs


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Voices in My Head, Mountain Lions in the Suburbs

From StrategyPage:

LRAD is basically a focused beam of sound. Originally, it was designed to emit a very loud sound. Anyone whose head was touched by this beam, heard a painfully loud sound. Anyone standing next to them heard nothing. But those hit by the beam promptly fled, or fell to the ground in pain. Permanent hearing loss is possible if the beam is kept on a person for several seconds, but given the effect the sound usually has on people (they move, quickly), it is unlikely to happen. LRAD works. It was recently used off Somalia, by a cruise ship, to repel pirates. Some U.S. Navy ships also carry it, but not just to repel attacking suicide bombers, or whatever. No, the system was sold to the navy for a much gentler application. LRAD can also broadcast speech for up to 300 meters. The navy planned to use LRAD to warn ships to get out of the way. This was needed in places like the crowded coastal waters of the northern Persian Gulf, where the navy patrols. Many small fishing and cargo boats ply these waters, and it's often hard to get the attention of the crews. With LRAD, you just aim it at a member of the crew, and have an interpreter "speak" to the sailor. It was noted that the guy on the receiving end was sometimes terrified, even after he realized it was that large American destroyer that was talking to him. This apparently gave the army guys some ideas, for there are now rumors in Iraq of a devilish American weapon that makes people believe they are hearing voices in their heads.

This made more sense when an American advertising firm recently used an LRAD unit to support a media campaign for a new TV show. LRAD was pointed at a sidewalk in Manhattan, below the billboard featuring the new show. LRAD broadcast a female voice providing teaser lines from the show. The effect was startling, and a bit scary for many who passed through the LRAD beam. It appears that some of the troops in Iraq are using "spoken" (as opposed to "screeching") LRAD to mess with enemy fighters. Islamic terrorists tend to be superstitious and, of course, very religious. LRAD can put the "word of God" into their heads. If God, in the form of a voice that only you can hear, tells you to surrender, or run away, what are you gonna do?

I wonder if this thing can shoot sound through walls? The implications are a little scary. As a general rule, I'm not sure that putting the "voice of God" into people's heads is a good idea. For some reason, the Son of Sam comes to mind. Although I do fully support the effort to persuade anyone fighting US troops to put down their arms -- don't get me wrong.

Anyway, talk about an invasion of privacy. Living our lives immersed in ambient marketing messages is one thing; having voices talk right at us is another. This is about one full step away from having messages beamed straight into our heads.

However, the Navy warning system seems like a good application. I can see this technology having a number of similar applications -- this might be one way to talk a potential jumper back from the ledge, for example. On the other hand, he or she might decide that a disembodied voice telling him/her what to do is the absolute last straw.

Goodbye, cruel world.

I wonder if a personal, portable version of this might eventually be available? The screech might be an effective way to ward off home invaders -- human or animal. Glenn has written more than once about how suburban human populations are starting to share habitat with rebounding predator populations -- often with disastrous results. We don't have a cougar problem per se in Highlands Ranch (yet), although the occasional house pet does fall prey to the coyotes who roam the "open space" that we're so proud of.

If the coyote population grows and people start taking more active steps to protect their pets, or if the cougar problem emerges here as it has elsewhere in Colorado, I can imagine a proliferation of shotguns here in the 'hood. Knowing some of my neighbors as I do, that thought doesn't make me much more comfortable than the thought of the coyotes and the cougars in the first place.

On the other hand, there is no panacea -- I wouldn't want to be permanently deafened when some neighbor kid decides to pull a "prank" with the family screech unit, either.

Still, I can see a technology such as this ultimately being very useful for personal protection -- whether from bears while out backpacking or from potential muggers while making one's way through a late-night parking lot. Sonic Pepper Spray, if you will.


"There's that voice again -- telling me it's time to hibernate!"


Is there any better psychological weapon than putting the voice of Allah in a jihadist?


Well- taking it out.

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