I want one of these.

     Many years ago I lived in a suburbs, where the houses were quite close together. I remember I had a particularly obnoxious neighbor, who was very loud of voice and action. It irritated me to the point of planning how I could shut him up, preferably permanently, but realistically, just whenever he was at his loudest.

     I dreamed that it ought to be possible to build something that would take in his noise, and send it back to him at three times the volume, with a slight delay. My reasoning was that such a system would drive him crazy, and he might stop or, at least, quiet down. I have to admit, now, that I didn’t consider the fact that he might just have shot me, but that was in a different time and place to today’s realities.

     My technical dream never came to fruition and, eventually, I moved, which solved the problem, at least for me. However, the thought of such a machine has stayed with me over the years, particularly when I’ve encountered other, similar, annoying situations.

     Imagine my amazement, when I read in the recent issue of Popular Mechanics that such a machine actually exists, courtesy of the scientists at the Surface Warfare Crane Division, of the U.S. Navy.

     The handheld acoustic hailing and disruption device they’ve developed records a person’s speech and spits it back out again, disrupting their concentration, and discouraging them from speaking further. The target’s speech is directed back to them twice, once immediately, and once after a short delay. This delay creates delayed auditory feedback (DAF), which alters the speaker’s normal perception of their own voice.

     In normal speech, a speaker hears their own words with a slight delay (mouth to ear)(I didn’t know that, did you?), and the body is accustomed to this feedback. By introducing another audio feedback source, with a sufficiently long delay, the speaker’s concentration is disrupted, and it becomes difficult to continue speaking.

     Just think of the possible uses, just on politicians alone!

     Anyone with a brother or sister will recognize this technology right away. It is basically a computerized sibling, repeating whatever the speaker says immediately after he or she says it, in a funny or disturbing voice. The only difference is that a sibling does it simply to irritate another family member, while a government agency using the system might use it to shut down a riot, or other unlawful assembly. We, as individuals could use it to shut-up a particularly annoying speaker.

     The system can get very sneaky, as the patent filed by the Navy explains: “By utilizing directional microphones and speakers, only a target speaker’s voice will be picked up by the system, and only a target speaker will hear the transmitted return audio.”

     The person targeted might be stunned into silence by the technology, and baffled that no one in their vicinity can hear what they’re hearing. Think politicians! Those around them might be equally baffled that the person has stopped speaking, seemingly without reason. In other words, it can make you think you’re crazy, and make people around you think you’re crazy. What a wonderful invention.

     The disruption technique works best if the machine repeats speech a syllable behind the speaker cadence. You can even aim it at a wall or corner so that the audio appears to originate from the target.

     I repeat. What a wonderful invention. I want one of these!

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