A couple of years ago Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Sage Walker got their pictures in USA Today when they represented Sigma at a Homeland Security conference. Sigma is a kind of think tank where science fiction writers share insights about the future with agencies laying real-world plans.
This week Sigma sent sf writers Arlan Andrews, Catherine Asaro, and Greg Bear to another DHS conference and they made the papers again. The Washington Post reported:
Harry McDavid, chief information officer for Homeland Security’s Office of Operations Coordination & Planning, had a question for Catherine Asaro, author of two dozen novels, about half of them devoted to her Saga of the Skolian Empire. She also has a PhD in physics. McDavid’s job involves “information sharing” — efficiently communicating information about response and recovery across agencies, states, business sectors. How, he wanted to know, did Asaro come up with the Triad system in her novels of flashing thoughts instantly across the universe?
“It evolved along with the story,” Asaro said. Basically, she applied principles of quantum theory — one of her specialties as a physicist — to a fictional theory of “thought space.”
McDavid has no plan to add telepathy to Homeland Security’s communications strategy. That wasn’t the point of his question — or of the agency’s invitation to science fiction writers in the first place. He’s looking for ways to break old habits of thought.
“We’re stuck in a paradigm of databases,” McDavid said later. “How do we jump out of our infrastructure and start conceptualizing those threats? That’s very cool.”
Sigma’s website shows around 40 authors are in the group. The website looks homemade, and its content is rather uneven. However, what they do is illustrated by Michael Swanwick’s gem of an editorial, “Fresh Flowers and Small Robots: The Open-Security Airport of 2010”. Swanwick sketches a compelling near-future vision where TSA does its business quite differently, and “Most amazingly, nobody takes their shoes off.”
Sigma’s news page, regrettably, occupies the other end of the quality spectrum. A group striving to impress prospective clients with its professionalism should not be repeating headlines that read:
DARPA, who teamed up with Dan Quale to invent the Internet…
If somebody wants to give props to Dan Quayle, spell his name right. But stop portraying Quayle as someone trying to poach credit that another Vice-President once claimed for creating the internet. Everyone just ends up looking foolish.
[Thanks to Francis Hamit and Andrew Porter for the link.]