Monday, June 04, 2007

Science Fiction takes on Homeland Security

"We're well-qualified nuts."

This is how author Jerry Pournelle described the members of Sigma, a group of science fiction writers organized to advise government officials ( USA Today article).

The six writers that make up Sigma took part in a recent Homeland Security conference on science and technology. They were invited because the Homeland Security Department thinks their vivid imaginations and crazy ideas about possible terrorist attacks and detection systems might give them a leg up when it comes to anticipating attacks.

An interesting idea - after all most security systems (at least the airport's) seem reactive rather than far-sighted. But being involved in this type of activity brings up another matter that scientists have long struggled with: social responsibility.

Scientists from Alfred Nobel to J. Robert Oppenheimer (and MANY others) have struggled with the implications of their work. Knowledge, after all, is power. And the whole system of science is based on pursuing and sharing knowledge. Where does personal responsibility begin and end?

Natural Search Blog had this to say about the writers:

...One would wish that they had learned the lessons of scientists and engineers of the past who later saw that the willy-nilly deployment of new technologies could cause more destruction and problems for the human race, sometimes outweighing the improvements they originally intended.

On the other hand, science fiction author and Sigma member Larry Niven says this about why they are helping the government:

To save civilization. We do it in fiction. Why wouldn't we want to do it in fact?

Sigh. Too much to think about for a Monday.

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