Munich, Orlando, Paris, Fort Myers, Hesston, Dallas, San Bernardino, Newtown, Oslo… the list reads like a failure of modern society. And at the center of all of these tragedies lies a single, simple word: guns. Few topics raise such controversy or debate and, while I definitely have my opinions on the matter, I also accept that my ranting and raving about gun control would be another voice lost in the mob. Instead, let them have their guns if they so insist. But at the same time, give us designers a crack at the problem and see what we come up with.
One of the core principles of experience design is to reduce the amount of “friction” required to complete a task. This is talked about in a lot of ways, but the basic gist is that if you want a person to do something, you must accept the worst case – that they are lazy, difficult, and generally don’t want to succeed – and design an experience that nearly completes itself. However, by approaching the challenge of guns as a designer, I’m struck by the brilliance and simplicity of a gun’s design – just point, pull the trigger, and bad things happen – and realize that this is a rare case where we actually need to introduce sources of friction into the experience. It’s become too easy to use guns, so much so that any untrained aggressor with basic intent can suddenly be in control of a mechanism of death.
Yet with new miniaturized sensors and processors emerging, we can consider augmenting these weapons with connectivity to offset a lack of training or understanding of the implications of certain actions. Already, there are countless versions of smart guns on the market: personalized firearms that use some form of user authorization to ensure the gun hasn’t fallen into the wrong hands. Whether through fingerprint sensing, grip style, RFID, or otherwise, these guns can potentially prevent unauthorized use. However, that doesn’t do much good if the authorized user turns hostile.
What if instead, all guns carried a digital history of their use? Each bullet fired would be time stamped, GPS monitored, and biometrically linked to the shooter. This would certainly make law enforcement’s job a great deal easier and ideally make a would-be killer think twice before pulling the trigger. Of course, even in this scenario, there will always be circumstances and individuals who say to hell with the consequences and fire away.
Which begs the question: How can we turn a gun into a more intelligent killing device? Optical sensing could be used to identify human silhouettes and refuse to fire. Many would argue that this undermines the intent of a gun and reduces the ability for individuals to protect themselves, so let’s take this intelligence one step further. Real-time video analysis could be used to identify target intent and only unlock in the case of a hostile target. Given the wave of unlawful shootings by police officers, this could even be valuable technology for the law enforcement community to prevent rogue officers overstepping their bounds.
The reality is that for a variety of reasons – mental illness, intense moments, emotional troubles – human beings suck at making difficult decisions in high-pressure situations. Even the most trained individuals revert to basic human instinct during a crisis and can often make a choice that will change multiple lives forever. Technology, on the other hand, is cold, calculated, impassive, and does what we program it to do. While I would never want these traits to be the ones pulling the trigger, maybe it’s about time we started thinking about using them to hold the trigger back when we unpredictable humans are the ones trying to pull it.