Three years ago, I was shot by the U.S. Air Force. It hurt like hell, but it didn’t kill me. Nor were there any residual effects. In fact, five seconds after they shot me, I could barely tell that anything had happened at all. The weapon they hit me with was the Active Denial System—a microwave pain beam. I volunteered as a test subject for a story on nonlethal weapons, and the Air Force saw no reason not to shoot a journalist with the thing. You can read about my superhuman pain-endurance capabilities here. (Actually, I sprang into the air like a ballerina the second they turned it on.)
After several years of further development and miniaturization, it looks like the Air Force is about to deploy the pain beam to Iraq as a crowd-control device. It remains controversial, because the implications of its strategic use are still unknown, and some think the long-term residual effects on victims have yet to be fully assessed. I can tell you from experience, though, that apart from my newfound ability to heat up cups of tea simply by staring intensely at them for 15 seconds, I’ve suffered no ill effects. [Side note: In the Wired article below, the writer’s being a bit dramatic. The truth is, you don’t actually feel like you’ve been dipped in molten lava, and you don’t almost faint from shock and pain. Your body acts faster than you can think, so you don’t stick around long enough to get even close to fainting. Deployed versions would have built-in cutoffs to prevent the beam from lingering long enough on an individual to have such effects.] Also, watch for our February feature on nonlethal weapons being adopted by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.