The information bullet

Dig this: A corporation has patented a new gun that imprints a tiny barcode on every bullet it fires. The barcode is only 50 microns wide, barely the length of a human hair. But it thus leaves an indelible calling card of who fired the weapons. This is a gun that fires information.

Of course, guns already leave distinct traces on bullets, so forensics experts have for years been mostly successful in matching bullets to a gun. But the inventors say barcodes on guns would massively improve law enforcement:

Except for its beveled tip, the entire girth and length of a bullet fired through a bar-code barrel would be inscribed with several copies of the code. According to Mr. Lawson, this will make it easier to identify bullets even if they fragment into many pieces, as they often do if fired from high-velocity rifles, like the one used by the sniper around Washington.

The weird thing is, the Washington sniper is already in a strange sort of information dance with the media and the police:

Television reporters daily ask police investigators to face the camera and address the sniper personally.

“The message remains the same,” Chief Moose said. “Think about what you’re doing and turn yourself into law enforcement.”

The long-standing, deconstructionist puns about “shooting” and the media here are almost too easy. We use cameras to fire information at the sniper; he does the same thing with bullets.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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