I have read in a book review of "Fallen Angels" that a high-tech torture machine, which "administers drugs and medical attention while busy cracking teeth, flaying skin and breaking bones" and "renders one's anatomy and is henceforth called "The Anatomizer"" used for "ritual punishment" is described in the book.

The dictator of my fictional country just read the book and is impressed by the idea of an advanced medical torture device - he has long become bored by "too humane" execution methods such as boiling alive.

Your task is:

  • to design a device which:

    • slowly tortures a human to death while
    • causing maximal suffering
    • prolonging and intensifying the suffering using advanced medical methods or drugs with the intent to keep the subject alive for as long as possible, ideally for several hours or even days
    • gradually deconstructing the subject's body (e.g. removing fingers, gouging eyes, flaying skin, removing internal organs, etc...)
    • adapts to the anatomy and the body parameters of the subject, automatically "hand-tailoring" a torture program
    • can be used for open-air public execution events
    • runs autonomously but can also be operated manually by an executioner

By "advanced medical technology" I mean anything that can be developed within the next 20-30 years; nanotechnology is permitted to a certain extent, but machines that don't rely on it are encouraged. Computer use is encouraged.

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    $\begingroup$ I think such question has been already asked on this site $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, not really duplicate, but related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/38529/… $\endgroup$ Jan 29, 2017 at 10:13
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    $\begingroup$ Torture and public execution have different goals. The first thing in a dictatorship tries to get information from the subject by continuely administering excruciating pain. The second should last up to a few minutes at most, normally more like a few seconds or even less (think firing squad). It's to show the public what happens when you disobey. Does this mean the machine has different "modes"? This questions seems pretty broad... plus googling "the most cruel torture methods" is a bit too much for me... But it should take a long time if you want torture -> think days to weeks $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 29, 2017 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Secespitus public execution often was made elaborate, slow and obviously torturous to serve as a deterrent. Hanging, drawing and quartering for UK treason. Death by a thousand cuts in China. Boiling counterfeiters alive slowly, starting with legs. A regime may easily want to show that yes, it can be worse than a death; to demonstrate to those who'd be eager to sacrifice their lives that even they still have something to lose and should stay away from the serious crimes (against the government) and stick to ordinary things like robbery, rape and murder that only harm other plebs. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Jan 29, 2017 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Peteris Public execution is still far faster than deconstructing the anatomy of a person. I am thinking of what is describes in the thriller Broken Dolls: constantly torturing the victim, administering drugs to keep them alive, make them submissive and then increasing the pain exponentially until they, after days or weeks, are at a point where they cannot even wish for death anymore. Normal plebs don't have this amount of time to watch someone die. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 29, 2017 at 12:23

3 Answers 3


By "advanced medical technology" I mean anything that can be developed within the next 20-30 years; nanotechnology is permitted to a certain extent, but machines that don't rely on it are encouraged. Computer use is encouraged.

  1. Locate the brain's pain centers through fMRI.
  2. Have a surgical probe drill its way to them (an even more advanced technology, as described fleetingly in Larry Niven's novels, could allow to do this without the need for wiring the head - some sort of induction helmet could be enough).
  3. Administer muscle relaxant or use nerve blocks to avoid spasming. Set in place necessary IV lines, cathethers etc.
  4. Administer low-level electrical current to stimulate (1).

A computer can monitor both vital signs and pain levels to maximize the latter while ensuring the victim does not die (an automated defibrillator might also be needed).

Your victim is now in Hell, except that it will still be able to die of old age.

As for, "can be used for open-air public execution events" -- just supply video feeds to the torture chambers with people screaming.

One advantage is that - provided the victims do not lose their mind - the torture can stop with little or no damage done, which makes it a scalable punishment (e.g. a day or a week's torture instead of hanging, and so on). Also, at that point a victim would be willing to do anything, including facing certain death, to be spared a repeat.

(This method is briefly referred to in the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F. Hamilton, used as painful but short-lived execution, in the Known Space by Larry Niven as a threat, and in detail in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, where Nemene Damendar Boann (aka Semirhage), the sadistic Forsaken, was known for making "a man scream his every waking hour for five years. She even kept him sane, but in the end even she could not keep his heart beating")


Break into two phases:

  • Torture
  • Execution

The torture phase you do in private where you essentially are pumping them for information and break them mentally so that they will confess to anything. Note the goal with this phase is not to kill them. So forms of torture that have minimum chance of death are ideal for this (like Fabby's dream torture answer).

The execution phase is the public part where the goal is to deter other people from doing the same thing. At this point causing physical pain to the victim is secondary to the psychological impact to the crowd. Therefore it is best to avoid more methods where the crowd loses interest because it is taking too long and methods where they cannot comprehend the amount of pain the victim is going through (think about how many men understand the amount of pain their wives experience during childbirth).

As for the execution part, I recommend going old school with:


Set aside any religious significance that has become associated with it. Death by crucifixion meets the goals of your dictator perfectly: Quoting catholic education:

The initial scourging would weaken the victim, cause massive blood loss, and probably induce shock. By the time the victim had carried thecross bar to the crucifixion area, he would be exhausted.

Once up on the cross, the victim would have his body weight suspended by their arms. In this position, it is difficult to completely exhale. The victim could take shallow breaths for a while, but eventually would be forced to push himself up to take a full breath.

At this point three things happen:

  • The victim's weight is now fully supported by his feet. The nails through the feet would be likely to hit two major nerves running through the area. The result would be excruciating pain in the legs.

  • The nails in the wrists would be likely to pierce the main nerve running through the arm. As the victim pushed up to breath, the wrists would rotate against the nail, irritating the nerves and causing intense pain in the arms. Some authorities also believe that the crucifixion position would dislocate the shoulder or elbow. Any movement would aggravate the pain from these injuries.

  • The wounds on the victims back from the scourging would push up against the rough part of the centerpiece. This would tend to re-open the wounds, leading to more pain and blood loss.

This combination of pain would quickly force the victim to lower himself back down. Eventually, the victim would no longer be able to raise himself up and would suffocate. The shock from blood loss due to the scourging would hasten this process.

Some other points:

  • Very public, can last for days
  • Cheap and low maintenance: Once you set it going you only have to guard it to make sure no one takes them down, and the material cost to do it costs of wood, rope and nails
  • After they die they stay on the cross to rot allowing the message to be further sunk into the masses
  • The death process is easily comprehended by the masses. It has a major visual aspect to it that helps them to understand the amount of pain the victim is experiencing

How about dream-torture?

  1. Bring subject in a dream state.

  2. Torture them there using simulations (can include any or all of your parameters, including broadcasting the torture)

  3. Wake them up

  4. Rinse and repeat until subject dies from exhaustion/fear/cardiac arrest/...

Could be possible in the next 20-30 year looking at current dream research...

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    $\begingroup$ Sounds like the Tsukuyomi from Naruto :) $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Jan 29, 2017 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ The en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altered_Carbon novels go into detail about a similar "feature". $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Jan 29, 2017 at 12:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SEistoopoliticallycorrect Freddy Krueger or Freddy Krüger... There! FTFY! ;-) >:-) $\endgroup$
    – Fabby
    Feb 5, 2020 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds familiar... (Specifically, the part about being scared literally to death from a dream.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Feb 5, 2020 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Fabby It doesn't matter which spelling you do; you're equally dead either way. $\endgroup$ Feb 7, 2020 at 2:53

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