Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sci-fi writers join war on terror

Clockwise from top left, Jerry Pournelle, Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, Larry Niven and Sage Walker

Looking to prevent the next terrorist attack, the Homeland Security Department is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described "deviant" thinkers: science-fiction writers. "We spend our entire careers living in the future," says author Arlan Andrews, one of a handful of writers the government brought to Washington this month to attend a Homeland Security conference on science and technology.

Those responsible for keeping the nation safe from devastating attacks realize that in addition to border agents, police and airport screeners, they "need people to think of crazy ideas," Andrews says.

The writers make up a group called Sigma, which Andrews put together 15 years ago to advise government officials. The last time the group gathered was in the late 1990s, when members met with government scientists to discuss what a post-nuclear age might look like, says group member Greg Bear. He has written 30 sci-fi books, including the best seller Darwin's Radio.

Now, the Homeland Security Department is calling on the group to help with the government's latest top mission of combating terrorism.

... The group's motto is "Science Fiction in the National Interest."

...Pournelle and others say that science-fiction writers have spent their lives studying the kinds of technologies and scenarios Homeland Security officials have been tackling since the department began operating in 2003.

"We talk to a lot of strange people and read a lot of weird things," Bear says.

... The 9/11 Commission called the 2001 terrorist attacks a result of the government's "failure of imagination." For this group, Walker says, there's no such thing as an "unthinkable scenario."

Why offer their ideas to the government instead of private companies that pay big bucks?

"To save civilization," Ringworld author Larry Niven says. "We do it in fiction. Why wouldn't we want to do it in fact?"

You'll have to excuse me if I feel that this meeting of the minds may be a little dubious. Larry Niven is my favorite sci-fi author and I'm a big fan of Jerry Pournelle, but methinks that this is just the government massaging a few egos (which many authors have particularly large ones of) to try and get pop-culture to rubber stamp their empire-making. After all, we already have 24 serving that purpose ... working viewers into a frenzy and making them fear that there is a terrorist around every corner.

Terrorism is not going to be what ruins our society. Arrogance, imperialism and fascism will be. If they are genuinely trying to get some input to help predict what society we are creating with our decisions, then more power to them. But call me skeptical. Foresight, imagination and planning have never been the strong suits of this government.


Laura said...

Um... do they forget that our intelligence community DID predict the method of the last terrorist attacks? Flying planes into buildings? Bin Laden determined to attack inside US? Or, did they get that from their "think tank".

If this is their way of making me feel safer, as opposed to hiring more port security and FBI/CIA who actually SPEAK Arabic, Pashto, Farsi, and Persian (and others), then no thanks....

Scott said...

Well at least we should be prepared if we're ever attacked by an imperial galactic fleet. Or maybe giant bugs, or something.

CyberKitten said...

Is this the same/similar group of SF authors who pushed so hard for 'Star Wars' (the defence system rather than the movie)?

Any reasonably educated and intelligent 'think tank' could come up with - sometimes practical - methods of fighting terrorism. I don't, however, think that SF authors (as much as I like to read them) are particularly suited to "save civilisation" from terrorists - except maybe in their latest novel.

I thought that these guys already *had* a day job....?

dbackdad said...

"... do they forget that our intelligence community DID predict the method of the last terrorist attacks?" -- Great point. It's not a lack of imagination or usable intelligence that is the problem ... it's the surplus of hubris.