Science Fiction and National Defense

Discussion in 'Architecture & Engineering' started by kmguru, Mar 4, 2008.

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  1. kmguru Staff Member

    Science Fiction Mavens Offer Far Out Homeland Security Advice

    Now a fixture at Department of Homeland Security science and technology conferences, SIGMA is a loosely affiliated group of science fiction writers who are offering pro bono advice to anyone in government who want their thoughts on how to protect the nation.

    The group has the ear of Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary Jay Cohen, head of the science and technology directorate, who has said he likes their unconventional thinking. Members of the group recently offered a rambling, sometimes strident string of ideas at a panel discussion promoting the group at the DHS science and technology conference.

    Among the group’s approximately 24 members is Larry Niven, the bestselling and award-winning author of such books as “Ringworld” and “Lucifer’s Hammer,” which he co-wrote with SIGMA member Jerry Pournelle.

    Niven said a good way to help hospitals stem financial losses is to spread rumors in Spanish within the Latino community that emergency rooms are killing patients in order to harvest their organs for transplants.

    “The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

    “Do you know how politically incorrect you are?” Pournelle asked.

    “I know it may not be possible to use this solution, but it does work,” Niven replied.

    “I cannot guarantee I’m going to be a great help to Homeland Security,” Niven said earlier.

    Pournelle said that once mobile phone technology and the devices tacked on them to take pictures and record video become more ubiquitous, then ordinary citizens will be empowered to take security into their own hands — a prediction some have said already has come to pass.

    “My guess is we won’t need quite so many paid agents of the state to do that for us, which means maybe we can try being a republic instead of an incompetent empire,” he said, then railed against the Transportation Security Administration for treating passengers like “subjects” rather than “citizens.”

    The 45-minute panel discussion quickly deteriorated as federal, local and state homeland security officials, and at least one congressional aid, attempted to ask questions, which were largely ignored.

    Instead the writers used their time to pontificate on a variety of tangentially related topics, including their past roles advising the government, predictions in their stories that have come to pass, the demise of the paperback book market, and low-cost launch into space.

    David Brin, keeping on the topic of empowering citizens with mobile phone technology, delivered a self-described “rant” on the lack of funds being spent to support citizen reservists to back up the military, homeland security officials and first responders in times of crisis.

    “It is impossible for you to succeed without us!” he shouted at the assembled officials, while banging his fist on the table and at one point jumping off his chair to wave a mobile phone in their faces.

    SIGMA is the brainchild of Arlan Andrews Sr., who noted that many of the writers have advanced degrees, have jobs with the government or have been hired to advise the government in the past.

    “If you like the ideas these people have, and you’re from the government, feel free to come talk to them,” Andrews said.

    A lot of interesting ideas
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  3. Fabio4all Registered Member

    they sound like idiots, but creative idiots. What the government doesn't realize is that there are simple answers to our simple problems. Complex problems need complex answers. Many of our problems are just simple problems, but we try to make complex answers to them. What happens? More problems. If we get simple people to solve our simple problems, then we don't have any simple problems! It's simple, lol.
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  5. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    Larry Niven's books were so crap. characters could have been interesting but instead were cardboard and the story is set in an interesting place, a ring, but was drably described. In short, Niven needed someone to actually write his book.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I think a larger problem is that neither the government nor the citizenry perform competent risk analysis. Consider an absurdly simple comparison:
    • 150,000 Americans were killed by drunk drivers in the last 8 years; only 3,000 were killed by terrorists.
    • We know who virtually all of the drunk drivers are and where they live; terrorists are difficult to identify and expensive to find, especially since most of them live outside our jurisdiction and try to hide.
    • We can reduce drunk driving by two orders of magnitude and maybe more by making a breathalyzer ignition interlock standard equipment on all cars; we don't have more than a vague idea on how to reduce terrorism.
    • The financial cost of the interlocks would be trivial, surely < $100 for every buyer of a new car, $50,000 per life saved. (Statistically the average American places a value of $7,000,000 on his life.) The financial cost of the "war on terrorism" is at least $200 billion per year, $500,000,000 per life saved. (No American would buy that life-insurance policy if he were given the rational choice!)
    • The non-monetary cost of a technology campaign against drunk driving would be near zero, since preventing drunks from driving in the first place eliminates the unpleasantness of throwing one's friends--or even oneself in a weak moment--in jail. The non-monetary cost of the current anti-terrorism campaign is enormous, ranging from citizens being groped by civil "servants" in airport lines while trying to keep their beltless pants from falling down, to America's allies steadily abandoning us, to the world's 1.5 million Muslims beginning to wonder if America really means to restart the Crusades.
    Clearly the sensible choice is to concentrate on the large, manageable risk of drunk driving and to allow terrorism to be one of the many small, elusive risks that enlightened people accept as the cost of living in a free country.
    This is typical of that school of sci-fi and many of us love it. In this subgenre the milieu is more important than the characters. Niven's "drab" descriptions are more interesting to geeks (a major demographic in sci-fi readership) than "boring" descriptions of personalities and relationships. James P. Hogan and the late Robert L. Forward also write this type of sci-fi but they are far better because they describe their science in great detail and none of it requires suspension of disbelief, e.g. no FTL starships but exhaustive explanations of how organic nuclear reactions work and how life could evolve on a neutron star. If you want characterization and visual imagery read Alan Dean Foster, my favorite in that subgenre.
  8. Homyrrh Registered Member

    Eh, inclined to respectfully disagree. I feel it's quite the contrary, though that's conviction rather than conclusion.

    Also, while spreading said rumors creates certain dilemmas, etc., some simple problems require extraneous, outside-the-box thinking, no? Yes.
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