Beams could control more than crowds
WHATEVER your feelings about the Military Industrial Complex, you have to give our nation's war engine at least a little credit for occasionally excreting influential consumer gadgets as a byproduct of battle-preparedness.
The government-backed combat and space sciences have been directly responsible for any number of trickle-down innovations, from hiking-boot materials to the microwave oven, from the stretch-Hummer limo to Tang. Even bloggers who rant online against the establishment have to admit that without the military, they might not have the freedom to rant at all -- they certainly wouldn't have the Internet to rant on.
Still, when I read last month about the military's new heat-ray weapon being developed to disperse enemy combatants or hostile crowds, it made me pause. According to the Associated Press, the prototype is a large dish atop a Humvee that shoots out a potent energy beam that, while harmless in the long term, in the short term causes anyone within 550 yards to feel as though they're being deep-fried.
MILITARY officials said this will be a key "nonlethal weapon," a progressive step to address the angry hordes of the future, likely by 2010.
But "progress" comes with a price. What if this invention also gets refined for consumer use shortly thereafter, just like Velcro, trench coats and the jet engine? It made me imagine how this technology might soon make my daily life different someday after 2010:
It's the beginning of a typical Tuesday morning in the not-so-distant future. I wake up to the sound of my alarm clock. I hit the snooze button.
Fine. No problem. Nine minutes later the alarm sounds again, and I hit the snooze again.
Fine. Still no problem. But the third time I hit the snooze, my alarm emits an invisible, high-energy beam making me feel as though I've just been doused with 100 gallons of arctic ice water. Bug-eyed, I'm instantly awake, upright and on the balls of my feet. Thanks to my screams, so is my dog and anything else with ears within a four-floor radius of my condo.
At least I won't be late for work. I also won't be able to speak until late afternoon, but that can have its upside as well.
ON MY commute, I pass a Dunkin' Donuts. Rather than be tempted to go in and order a half-dozen glazed and a half-dozen chocolate-covered, I immediately become mildly nauseous. Actually, no beam was activated this time, because I didn't stop. However, three months prior, my calorie-counting wife had installed a special GPS-enabled emitter in my car that makes my stomach do flip-flops any time I stop within 1.5 miles of any Dunkin' Donuts nationwide -- and over time I have developed a Pavlovian response.
Plus, the week before, I got a flat tire right next to that very Dunkin' Donuts, and until the EMTs arrived I felt like Superman wearing a Kryptonite necklace at the bottom of the deep end of the pool.
Still, on the upside, I have lost 15 pounds.
But my wife doesn't know everything. Turns out I have no such mental block with out-of-the-way mom-and-pop Fleishman's Fine Pastries (thankfully there's a least one hippie baker left who refuses to get on the grid), so I make a U-turn and head away from town to score a couple of eclairs.
OK, maybe I will be late for work.
Once work is done, I come home to find I have e-mail from Verizon Wireless saying my account is past due. This triggers special spyware installed on my laptop that projects a beam of energy making my kneecaps feel as though they've been shot with a 9 mm pistol.
The pain will not go away until I transfer the minimum payment due from my banking account using the proper nine-digit routing and eight-digit checking account numbers. Good thing I have both on an auto-form-fill program, because my vision is too blurred to key them in. Fortunately, the transaction clears moments before I black out.
On the upside, despite this hiccup, my overall credit score has gone up 73 points.
The next morning, I'm not sure what my name is, but I know I'm not going to hit the snooze.
Now, who knows what title sociologists would give this vignette from the future. But I know what the Military Industrial Complex would call not being late for work, not being fat and not being truant from creditors: