Your Favorite SF Author Is Making The World A Safer PlaceS

Sci-fi writers shaping US national security policy may sound like the stuff of comics, but it turns out that it's also happening in real life, as well. Be very afraid.

The Washington Post reported on the recent 2009 Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders Conference, where sci-fi authors like Greg Bear and Catherine Asaro discussed their ideas in front of security experts:

The cost to taxpayers is minimal. The writers call this "science fiction in the national interest," and they consult pro bono. They've been exploring the future, and "we owe it to mankind to come back and report what we've found," said writer Arlan Andrews, who also is an engineer with the Navy in Corpus Christi, Tex.

Andrews founded an organization of sci-fi writers to offer imaginative services in return for travel expenses only. Called Sigma, the group has about 40 writers. Over the years, members have addressed meetings organized by the Department of Energy, the Army, Air Force, NATO and other agencies they care not to name. At first, "to pass the Beltway giggle-factor test," Andrews recruited only sci-fi writers who had conventional science or engineering chops on their résumés. Now about a third of the writers have PhDs.

The benefit of talking to the SF authors, according to the attendees? Their fresh take on situations:

"We're stuck in a paradigm of databases," [Chief information officer for Homeland Security's Office of Operations Coordination & Planning, Harry] McDavid said later. "How do we jump out of our infrastructure and start conceptualizing those threats? That's very cool." ...The department can't point to a gadget on the drawing board that was inspired by one of the novelists. But Rolf Dietrich, Homeland Security's deputy director of research, says the writers help managers think more broadly about projects, especially about potential reactions and unintended consequences. "They have a different way of looking at things," Dietrich said.

I have to admit loving the idea of using SF authors to shape US government policy. Well, as long as they don't include Orson Scott Card in any future policy discussions, of course.

U.S. Mission for Sci-Fi Writers: Imagine That [Washington Post]