Thursday, May 31, 2007

Science Fiction Writers Aid DHS


In “Sci-fi writers join war on terror,” Mimi Hall describes Sigma, a group of science-fiction writers who are helping the DHS brainstorm ways to protect the U.S.:

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.

Although some sci-fi writers' futuristic ideas might sound crazy now, scientists know that they often have what seems to be an uncanny ability to see into the future.

"Fifty years ago, science-fiction writers told us about flying cars and a wireless handheld communicator," says Christopher Kelly, spokesman for Homeland Security's Science and Technology division. "Although flying cars haven't evolved, cellphones today are a way of life. We need to look everywhere for ideas, and science-fiction writers clearly inform the debate."

Bear says the writers offer powerful imaginations that can conjure up not only possible methods of attack, but also ideas about how governments and individuals will respond and what kinds of high-tech tools could prevent attacks.

The group's motto is "Science Fiction in the National Interest." To join the group, Andrews says, you have to have at least one technical doctorate degree.

Bear is the perfect pick for a group like this; I had the good fortune to meet him a few years ago, at a conference that looked at ways to enhance human performance, and he had the twin attributes of deep insight (Darwin’s Radio and its sequel deal with periodic jumps in human evolution) and the affability needed to work in group settings.

Authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle are also Sigma members, and they’re no strangers to thinking hard about the future, either. In fact, they’ve been doing it for over 30 years, by my count, having co-written the seminal asteroid-impact epic Lucifer’s Hammer in the mid-1970s.

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