I have a story in Wired News today about the Air Forces Active Denial System (or pain beam) and why it is still not in service — despite all those years of development, and all those calls for it in Iraq. The big problem is not with the technology, which seems to work fine. The problem is getting people to accept it. Everyone is still worried the millimeter-wave beam is going to give them cancer, melt their eyeballs or make them sterile.
The Air Force has done a lot of safety testing on the Active Denial System. They have done every sort of test you could think of and many you would never imagine. Thanks to Ed Hammond of the Sunshine Project, I received a hefty stash of all 14 sets of protocols for ADS testing involving humans which he acquired using the FoIA. There are some amazing ones in there.
F-WR-2002-0024-H - Effects of Ethanol on Millimeter-Wave-Induced Pain translates roughly into lets see if a guy can stand the pain if we give him enough vodkas. FWR-2002-0023 Facial sensitivity and eye aversion response says that earlier trials included testing the pain beam on subjects buttocks; and FWR-2004-0029-H: Effects of Active Denial System Exposures on the Performance of Military Working Dog Teams involved putting a trained attack dog and its handler in front of the beam and seeing what happened when the animal was exposed to sudden, intense pain. Down, boy, down…
The beam has been tested thousands of times, and the bottom line is the same apart from very occasional blisters (seven in ten thousand exposures), all the ADS does is hurt a lot. Earlier concerns about zippers and spectacles seem to have been settled. But the Pentagon are hugely defensive about it. Perhaps its coincidence, but since those FoIA documents went out the Joint Non-lethal Weapons Program updated their web sites section on the ADS. The best bit is the new video here. If you ignore the Pentagon PR blather and move to a point 1 minute 19 seconds in you can see the actual effects of the beam, but only for 8 seconds, and again at 1 min 40 for 6 seconds.
And this is the problem. Tests conducted in secrecy without independent observers are not going to convince people: it amounts to “Its safe because we say it is. Trust us.” The ADS must not simply be safe and effective, it must be seen to be safe and effective, preferably by as many people as possible. And that means television.
Which is where my own modest proposal comes in. Its inspired by F-BR-2006-0018-H: Effects of Exposure to 400-W, 95-GHz Millimeter Wave Energy on Non-Stationary Humans:
Adult volunteerswill be asked to traverse a course as quickly as possible. At the end of this course they must then unlock a door (a subtask requiring some degree of fine motor skills) in order to exit the course (complete the task). During commission of this task, subjects will be targeted by the small-beam diameter, 400-W, 95-GHz device.
In other words, you try to get through the obstacle course (described as maze-like) while being zapped one or more pain beams. Its a valid test of the beams ability to prevent people from getting through a perimeter fence or similar, but it’s also got a neat competitive element. It’s already using cameras, and it has a sort of gameshow format, with post-zapping interviews:
Subject performance during all of the trials will be videotaped. After each trial, subjects will be asked for a self-report of “hits” and the perceived effectiveness of those hits utilizing a pain scale.
Reality television which involves suffering has been huge recently. Weve seen a rash of programs like Big Brother (which did more damage to George Galloway’s reputationthan the Senate Committee) and Survivor in which contestants endure appalling experiences for big prizes. We used to laugh at the Japanese humiliation-show Endurance, but the UK’s biggest hit du jour is I’m A Celebrity Get me Out of Here, in which D-list celebs try to boost their flagging ratings by eating caterpillars and even more disgusting delicacies .
So why not turn the ADS testing into a live show? That way millions of people could see for themselves exactly what the pain beam does. Familiarity would dispel all the myths about it, and thorough medical examinations (and perhaps the odd lawsuit) would settle any questions its safety once and for all. Even better, because it’s a matter of the nation’s defence, we can rope in anyone we want from the worlds of sport, entertainment and politics to ensure we get the ratings:
Dear Minor But Irritating Celebrity,
You have been selected by national poll to participate in a project vital to National Security. You are therefore required to report at the address attached on the stated date. Filming starts at 20:00 Saturday, and your attendance is mandatory and will be enforced. It’ll hurt, but it’s in a good cause.
You could vote for people to be included because you want to see how tough they really are, because they absolutely deserve it — or just because it would be fun to see them get zapped. Unlike other non-lethal weapons like rubber bullets and tear gas, ADS is equally safe on a 250 lb althete or a 110 lb heiress. Pacemakers, piercings, prosthetic joints, pregnancy or silicone implants are no obstacle to competing — the whole point of the ADS is that everybody is fair game. And it won’t leave any bruises, marks or damage a hair.
Whichever celebrity gets furthest in the trial is the winner that week, and gets to go on all the chat shows and talk about their experiences and have their picture in all the magazines. (Heat would be sort of appropriate). Picking the planet’s most egotistical and driven individuals should ensure that the beam really does work against highly motivated opponents, which previous tests have not necessarily proven.
As for a title - how about calling it “No Pain No Gain”?
I’ll settle for 2%, Mr Murdoch…
— David Hambling