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The gun that shuts you up (without killing you)

Japanese researchers develop a gun that, quite literally, drowns out certain voices. Just what uses might it be put to?

Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Sometimes, there seems no way to get others to stop talking.

One might want them to be quiet because they are spouting nonsense, or merely because they sound like Woody Woodpecker.

And yet some people do go on, often at the most inappropriate moments for our ears and our moods.

Some Japanese researchers--Kazutaka Kurihara at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tskuba and Koji Tsukada at Ochanomizu University--have created the perfect solution for this painful dilemma: a gun. No, they're not suggesting you go Dirty Harry on those who annoy you.

Instead, this appealing firearm jams the vocal output of the unwanted up to a distance of 100 feet.

The technology behind it is deafeningly simple. The gun listens in with a directional microphone and plays it back to them with a 0.2 second delay. This creates an environment in which one is simply unable to speak. The technical term for this is Delayed Auditory Feedback.

I can feel you already conjuring the beautiful mash-up inherent in creating silence with a gun. But might I first tell you what the researchers reportedly have in mind? According to the whispered voices at Extreme Tech, these boffins believe their gun will be terribly useful in libraries.

I wasn't aware that people still bothered with libraries, but I can see the potential of dimming the voices of the dim and ignorant.

However, there is one other use that I know those of a social and political bent will find entertaining.

To use the researchers' words: "We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking. However, some people tend to lengthen their turns or deliberately interrupt other people when it is their turn in order to establish their presence rather than achieve more fruitful discussions. Furthermore, some people tend to jeer at speakers to invalidate their speech."

Yes, it's a politeness enforcer.

You, like me, must have co-habited with people who ignored the fact that you were speaking and just carried on spouting their self-centered ruminations.

Now, without allegedly harming anything but their egos, you can shoot down their words.

The Technology Review suggests that this Shut-Up Gun (the creators disappointingly call it the SpeechJammer) works better to drown those who are reading aloud than those who are offering spontaneous dialogue. This is painfully disappointing.

I feel sure that there will be a veritable scramble to secure this scrambler. With just a few moments of consideration, I can see it being used during presidential debates, dates, family discussions, and meetings with one's accountant. (I have embedded a video of Zack Galafianakis enduring one such incident where the gun would have been very useful.)

I can see that many doctors will prescribe these Shut-up Guns to help ease their patients' stress. I can even see parents of newborns being able to gain extra hours of valuable sleep by pointing one of these guns at their little kiddies and ensuring the trigger is permanently pressed.

Sometimes, technology can truly offer hope to the pained. This, surely, is one of those days.