A future dictator's guide to disrupting protests
Watching the small-town cops of Ferguson play GI Joe with their Army-surplus machine-guns is scary enough -- but what happens when the tech-smarts of Google trickles down to the Barney Fifes of America? Tom Craver speculates on tomorrow's dissent-suppression tactics, and offers some countermeasures.
I was watching the Google I/O 2014 keynote video in which a couple protesters interrupted things, and that got me thinking how that probably irritated Google. I don't know if Google would -- but what might an organization with hefty technical chops do to render such disruptions ineffective?
We have only to look to the perverse idea of 'free speech zones' to find examples of others who will likely be eager to apply any technologies that help give them more exclusive control over the flow of information. If some 'bad guys' acquire some of the tech savvy of Google, how might they go about suppressing the speech of protesters? What new technologies might protesters use to disrupt official presentations?
Noise cancellation quickly comes to mind - capturing voices and projecting ‘anti-sound' to make a speaker or protester unintelligible if not inaudible to most their intended audience. This might work well if a protester jumps up in a public forum where the organizers control the sound system. Get a microphone up close to isolate the protester's voice, filter out other sounds, and generate the out of phase anti-speech to silence the protester. It wouldn't be perfect -- but mixed with already louder amplified speech from an official speaker, it might be sufficient. Audible disruptions would be kept brief, and no more last defiant shouts would be heard as the protester is dragged from the room.
A related tactic that would work when a speaker's voice can't be cancelled would use delayed audio feedback to induce confusion. Hearing one's own voice with about half a second of delay will cause most speakers to pause and stutter and sound foolishly incoherent. This method may also work on groups of demonstrators trying to chant in unison, if played loud enough to be heard over their chant.
False flag chanting is a slightly more devious technique, and can be a low tech approach to protest disruption. Protests are often only loosely controlled by their organizers, making it fairly easy for skilled provocateurs to get inside the protest group's command and control by applying the OODA method. Agents in the crowd could start chanting catchy slogans that nominally seem to match the protesters' cause -- but make the protesters who pick up the chant sound ill-informed or potentially violent.
But suppose the protesters are too well organized to allow in agents, or arrive unexpectedly. In that case the false flag chant tactic might be applied more stealthily using ultrasound beamed sound that can only be heard in a small spot, to suggest a chant to an enthusiastic protester. The sound beaming technology could be turned on an individual speaker in combination with the half-second delay tactic. Protesters are less likely to take media coverage away from their target, if their representatives seem inexplicably incoherent, while in the background their crowd is reciting stupid or vicious chants. A politician subjected to the 'speech confusion ray' might appear senile or inarticulate to potential voters.
Could a couple hundred smartphones held by protesters be synchronized by a clever app to create a sonic phased array, to target confusing sound at official speakers, or perhaps painful sound at riot police? The positioning and timing precision required may be beyond today's phones, but with future mobile devices optimized for the overlay of augmented reality gaming on the real world -- as Vernor Vinge portrayed in 'Rainbows End' -- an app to do these things may become practical.
On the topic of augmented reality, Microsoft's Illumiroom technology seems applicable in this field. It measures a room to generate a 3D model, which is used to modify projected video to eliminate any distortions from projecting onto a non-flat surface. This appears to work best in dark settings and for a fairly small viewing area. To me, that sounds similar to a darkened theatre, as seen from the speaker's podium. How would an audience react to a speaker that keeps stopping to stare at distractions in the audience that no one else could see, or perhaps ducks to hide behind the podium from some threat only the speaker can see?
If the 3D mapping portion of Illumiroom technology can be accelerated to real time, it should also be possible to project imagery onto a speaker. Subtle shadows might be projected onto the speaker's face to alter their apparent facial expression, making them appear angry or inappropriately amused. Manipulating shadows could also make a politician look very old and unappealing. More simply, graffiti might be projected onto speakers to make them look foolish. Protesters' signs might also be obscured or even modified to read as the opposite of their intent, no matter how vigorously they are waved. Potentially, a technique analogous to the anti-sound technique might be applied, to make protesters nearly vanish from the sight of their intended audience -- projected invisibility.
So is the point of this article to educate 'the bad guys' in how much more they could be doing to suppress protest and confine free speech? Or to give protesters new ideas to torment 'the man'? Both outcomes may happen -- but more likely it is only a matter of time before technologies such as these are independently applied or invented. Perhaps take it as a challenge -- how would you detect and counter these high-tech, free speech disruption tactics?
The Nightmare Machine is an MIT project to use machine learning image-processing to make imagery for Hallowe’en.
The long awaited Star Wars: Ahsoka offers a glimpse into the time between the fall of the Republic and the beginning of the rebellion against the Empire. Ashoka Tano, dedicated padawan Jedi and apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, was tossed from the Jedi order on trumped up charges. After clearing herself, the Togrutan force user declined […]
Nothing is more frustrating than needing to edit or sign a PDF and not having access to the original document. That’s why PDFpenPRO is a must-have app in our books.With this extremely useful app, you can merge, markup, and create PDF documents without ever having to convert your PDFs into word processor file formats. Type directly onto […]
From self-driving cars to stock market predicting software to the recommendations you get on Amazon and Netflix, machine learning is at the core of modern technology. You could find yourself building technology that is literally changing the world with the skills you’ll learn in The Complete Machine Learning Bundle. This bundle of 10 courses includes 406 lessons that will teach […]
This Python Mega Course will help you learn to code by teaching you to build 10 real-world apps that each highlight a unique use of Python.Job prospects for coders are still growing steadily—and with Python being one of the most popular coding languages out there today, it’s important for job seekers to demonstrate a widespread understanding of the […]