Science Fiction Writers Help Out Homeland Security Department

Posted on May 31, 2007

USA Today reports that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is turning to science fiction writers to help avoid future terrorist attacks. Why turn to writers? The government says it need s people with wild imaginations.

"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.

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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. "We're well-qualified nuts," says Jerry Pournelle, co-author of the best sellers Footfall and Lucifer's Hammer and dozens of other books.

Authors who are thinking out of the box in the name of national security also include Greg Bear, Sage Walker and Larry Niven. We've read their work and know the kinds of amazing things they can dream up. And we are very glad that they are all law-abiding citizens.


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