Category Archives: Sound weapons

On ‘Design and Behaviour’ this week: Do you own your stuff? And a strange council-run ‘Virtual World for young people’

GPS-aided repo and product-service systems

GPS tracking - image by cmpalmer

Ryan Calo of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society brought up the new phenomenon of GPS-aided car repossession and the implications for the concepts of property and privacy:

A group of car dealers in Oregon apparently attached GPS devices to cars sold to customers with poor credit so as to be able to track them down more easily in the event of repossession.

…this practice also relates to an emerging phenomenon wherein sold property remains oddly connected to the seller as though it were merely leased. Whereas once we purchased an album and did with it as we please, today we need to register (up to five) devices in order to play our songs.

…and Kingston University’s Rosie Hornbuckle linked this to the concept of product-service systems:

This puts a whole new slant on product-service-systems, a current (and popular) sustainability methodology whereby people are weaned off the concept of owning products, instead they lease them off the manufacturer who is then responsible for take-back, repair, recycling or disposal. So in that scenario it’s quite likely that a manufacturer will want to keep tabs on their equipment/material, will this bring up privacy issues or is it simply the case that if it’s done overtly (and not in the negative frame of potential repossession), the customer knows about it and agrees, it’s ok? Or will it be a long time before people can overcome the perceived encroachment on their liberty that not owning might bring?

It reminds me of something Bill Thompson suggested to me once, that (paraphrasing) the idea that we ‘own’ the technology we use might well turn out to be a short phase in overall human history. That could perhaps be ‘good’ in contexts where sharing/renting/pooling things allows much greater efficiency and brings benefits for users. Nevertheless, as the repossession example (and DRM, etc, in general) show, the tendency in practice is often to use these methods to exert increasing dominance over users, erode assumed rights, and extract more value from people who no longer have control of the things they use.

See the whole thread so far (and join in!)

Above image of GPS trails (unrelated to the story, but a cool picture) from cmpalmer’s Flickr

The Mosquito, and plans for an odd ‘walk-in virtual world’

McDonald's Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Rosie discussed the Mosquito (above image: an example outside a McDonald’s opposite Windsor Castle*) and asked “could we use our design skills and knowledge to influence these sorts of behaviours with a less aggressive and longer-term approach?” while Adrian Short summed up the issue pretty well:

There are a lot of problems in principle and in practice with these devices, but the core problem for me is that they tend to be directed at users rather than uses (i.e. people by identity, not behaviour) and are entirely arbitrary. The street outside a shop is public space and the shop owners have no more right than anyone else to dictate who goes there.

In as much as these things work (which is highly disputed), they are never going to encourage a meaningful debate about norms of behaviour among users of a space. This approach is not so much negotiation as warfare.

Sutton’s Rosehill steps (which Adrian let me know about originally) were also discussed and Adrian brought us the story of something very odd: a ‘virtual world to teach good behaviour to young people':

Half a mile away, the same council is proposing to spend at least £4 million on a facility that will include a high-tech virtual street environment, a “street simulator” if you like, to teach safety and good behaviour to some of the same young people.

“Part movie-set, part theme park, the learning complex will be the first of its kind in the UK and will also house an indoor street with shop fronts, pavements and a road. The idea is to give young people the confidence to make the best of their lives and have a positive impact on their peers and their local community.”

I don’t really know what to make of that. I actually woke up this morning thinking about it assuming that it was a dream I’d been having, then realised where I’d read about it. It sounds like a mish-mash of Scaramanga’s Fun House from The Man With The Golden Gun and the Ludovico Centre** from A Clockwork Orange.

Scaramanga's FunhouseLudovico Centre

See the whole thread here.

*This particular McDonald’s, with the Mosquito going every evening and clearly audible to me and my girlfriend (both mid-20s) also features a vicious array of anti-sit spikes (below) which rather negate the ‘welcoming’ efforts made with the flowerbed.

**I actually gave a talk about my research to Environmentally Sensitive Design students in this building a couple of weeks ago: it’s Brunel’s main Lecture Centre.

McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire
McDonalds Restaurant, Windsor, Berkshire

Mosquito controversy goes high-profile

Mosquito - image from Compound Security

The Mosquito anti-teenager sound device, which we’ve covered on this site a few times, was yesterday heavily criticised by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Albert Aynsley-Green, launching the BUZZ OFF campaign in conjunction with Liberty and the National Youth Agency: Buzz Off logo

Makers and users of ultra-sonic dispersal devices are being told to “Buzz Off” today by campaigners who say the device, which emits a high-pitched sound that targets under 25 year olds, is not a fair or reasonable solution for tackling anti-social behaviour. The campaign… is calling for the end to the use of ultra-sonic dispersal device. There are estimated to be 3,500 used across the country.
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‘Secret alarm becomes dance track’

The Mosquito sound has been mixed (sort of) into a dance track:

“…the sound is being used in a dance track, Buzzin’, with secret melodies only young ears can hear.

Simon Morris from Compound Security said: “Following the success of the ringtone, a lot of people were asking us to do a bit more, so we got together with the producers Melodi and they came up with a full-length track.

“It has two harmonies – one that everyone can hear and one that only young people can hear.

“But it works well together or separate,” he added.”

There’s a clip linked from the BBC story, or here directly (WMV format). Can’t say the “secret melodies” are especially exciting (and yes, I can hear it!) but I suppose it’s a clever idea. There could be some interesting steganographic possibilities, and indeed it could be used for ‘cheating in tests’ as Jason Thomas puts it here.

This is the same Simon Morris who’s quoted in an earlier BBC story as saying that teenagers (in general) don’t have a right “to congregate for no specific purpose”, so it’s interesting to see him getting involved with young peoples’ music. Nevertheless, I can see the dilemma that Compound Security are in: they’ve created something designed to be unpleasant for teenagers, but are also capitalising on its potential appeal to teenagers. It’s clever, if rather inconsistent branding practice.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems - Hendricus Loos
An image from Hendricus Loos’s 2001 US patent, ‘Remote Magnetic Manipulation of Nervous Systems’

In my review of Adam Greenfield‘s Everyware a couple of months ago, I mentioned – briefly – the work of Hendricus Loos, whose series of patents cover subjects including “Manipulation of nervous systems by electric fields”, “Subliminal acoustic manipulation of nervous systems”, “Magnetic excitation of sensory resonances” and “Remote magnetic manipulation of nervous systems”. A theme emerges, of which this post by Tom Coates at Plasticbag.org reminded me:

“There was one speaker at FOO this year that would literally have blown my brain away if he’d happened to have had his equipment with him. Ed Boyden talked about transcranial magnetic stimulation – basically how to use focused magnetic fields to stimulate sections of the brain and hence change behaviour. He talked about how you could use this kind of stimulation to improve mood and fight depression, to induce visual phenomena or reduce schizophrenic symptoms, hallucinations and dreams, speed up language processing, improve attention, break habits and improve creativity.

He ended by telling the story of one prominent thinker in this field who developed a wand that she could touch against a part of your head and stop you being able to talk. Apparently she used to roam around the laboratories doing this to people. She also apparently had her head shaved and tattooed with all the various areas of the brain and what direct stimulation to them (with a wand) could do to her. She has, apparently, since grown her hair. I’d love to meet her.”

Now, the direct, therapeutic usage of small-range systems such as these is very different to the discipline-at-a-distance proposed in a number of Loos’s patents (where an ‘offender’ can be incapacitated, using, e.g. a magnetic field), but both are architectures of control: systems designed to modify, restrict and control people’s behaviour.

And, I would venture to suggest, a more widespread adoption of magnetic stimulation for therapeutic uses – perhaps, in time, designed into a safe, attractive consumer product for DIY relaxation/stimulation/hallucination – is likely to lead to further experimentation and exploration of ‘control’ applications for law enforcement, crowd ‘management’, and other disciplinary uses. I think we – designers, engineers, tech people, architects, social activists, anyone who values freedom – should be concerned, but the impressive initiative of the Open-rTMS Project will at least ensure that we’re able to understand the technology.

Spiked: When did ‘hanging around’ become a social problem?

A playground somewhere near the Barbican, London. Note the sinister 'D37IL' nameplate on the engine

Josie Appleton, at the always-interesting Spiked, takes a look at the increasing systemic hostility towards ‘young people in public places’ in the UK: ‘When did ‘hanging around’ become a social problem?’

As well as the Mosquito, much covered on this site (all posts; try out high frequency sounds for yourself), the article mentions the use of certain music publicly broadcast for the same ‘dispersal’ purpose:
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Dilemma of horns

Night time

I was woken up (along with, I expect, lots of others) at about 5am today by a driver sounding his/her horn in the road outside – an arrogant two-second burst – then another replying (perhaps) with a slightly feeble one-second tone. I don’t know why; there are often a lot of horns during the day as there’s a level crossing which seems to generate a lot of frustration, but there are no trains passing through at 5am. Anyway, I went back to sleep and had various, fitful dreams, but not before thinking that’s where an architecture of control would be useful: a time-related horn interlock function, only allowing use of the horn during hours when it is legal. In the UK, that would be from 7am – 11.30 pm.
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