Failure of Imagination


USA Today tells us, “Sci-fi writers join war on terror,” in which, “the Homeland Security Department [sic] is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers….”

There are many available cheap shots as well as fish to shoot in that barrel. I’m going to take a cheap shot at one not in the barrel. The writers brought in are: Jerry Pournelle, Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, Larry Niven and Sage Walker.

Do you notice anyone missing who should be there? How about Tom Clancy, who wrote a novel in which a Boeing 747 is used as a cruise missile to take out the US Capitol and much of the government?

I can almost excuse the DHS, after all, they’re the ones who admit to not having enough imagination. But look at this:

During a coffee break at the conference, Walker, Bear and Andrews started talking about the government’s bomb-sniffing dogs. Within minutes, they had conjured up a doggie brain-scanning skullcap that could tell agents what kind of explosive material a dog had picked up.

Oh, wow! Brain-scanning dogs. (Incidentally, this shows how ignorant they are of how sniffer dogs work. They’re playing “find the ball” by smell. They don’t know explosives from treats.) Why did none of the writers ask each other in a coffee break, “Hey, why isn’t a guy who actually predicted this sort of thing here?”

Probably because, “for this group, Walker says, there’s no such thing as an ‘unthinkable scenario.'”

Sometimes with imagination, less is more.

6 thoughts on “Failure of Imagination

  1. It’s you who suffer from a failure of imagination, in this instance – all materials don’t smell alike to dogs, they’ve quite keen sensory clusters in their noses. Different materials smell differently to different dogs. In theory, one could baseline a particular dog’s neural mapping of a particular smell or set of smells associated with, say, C4 vs. fertilizer, and key off that.
    One could go even further and work on mapping optic-nerve impulses for specific shapes, though that would probably be much more difficult.

  2. One of the requirements for the club is an advanced technical degree. Not sure if this is a good idea, but it probably helps their cred with teh fed.

  3. DHS wouldn’t need much imagination, just someone with an ability to read. On 9/11, about 30 seconds after I understood what was happening (which, admittedly, took more than 30 seconds – it came in the midst of a family crisis) I thought of Tom Clancy, and assumed that his book was where they must have got the idea.
    And, btw, I’m not going to hand out free info to terrorists, so I won’t explain here, but before 9/11 I had figured out a story idea for a terrorist scenario that would cause such havoc it would make 9/11 seem like a 4th of July picnic. Why didn’t I write the story? Well, I also have enough imagination to think of the chance a terrorist might read it…

  4. I know I wouldn’t invite Clancy. More of a mystery to me (well, not really, given that Pournelle would probably spontaneously combust) is why they didn’t invite Bruce Sterling. You know, the guy who imagined islamic terrorists using themselves as suicide bioweapons back in 1989.
    I think that’s a tiny bit more bleeding edge than re-inventing the kamikaze for the Jet Age. Especially decades after Black September hijackers threatened the same thing with 707s, and some time after the designers of the World Trade Center did design studies to validate that it could survive a direct hit from a 707.
    Or they could invite Neal Stephenson. There’s this writer named Carl Fredericks who’s coming up with all kinds of crazy ideas lately, and he’s actually a physicist. Or just invite Stan Schmidt — he’s got all kinds of ideas.
    This groups was selected because they have the right political affiliation. THat’s pretty much it. Sterling spends too much time in Europe, Stephenson listens to too much thrash metal, and I could go on. Point being, if they want real out of box thinkers, neither Clancy nor this lot are what they want. (Except maybe Bear.)

  5. Clearly, someone at DHS got this idea from reading _Footfall_. (God, I wish Bob Ansen was around to see this.)

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