Summing Up SIGMA (Updated)

I’m still getting caught up and in the saddle after nearly a week in DC and a week in Maui. Somebody needed to go (to Maui) otherwise the terrorists win, right?

Taking a picture of the photographer SIGMA is a group of science fiction writers engaged by various governmental agencies (“Remember that guy in our meeting who wasn’t there?”) to think about future threats, weapons, and consequences of both. I won’t write about which SIGMA members were at the DHS conference two weeks ago, for that see Jason’s post (and yes, as you might deduce from Jason’s post, he was a wide-eyed kid when I introduced him to the group).

The USA Today article tells part of the story of the group, but of course there’s more. Consider that much of the popular science fiction is based on plausible and complex “realities” that real scientists and intensely detailed individuals devour. Problematic logic and inconsistencies don’t create the fantasy worlds. Because of the popular sci-fi writers end up as visionaries, consider Jules Verne and Gene Roddenberry.

The founder of the group, Arlan Andrews, is a real scientist that can’t, for example, be dismissed as just a sci-fi author.

Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., a Registered Professional Engineer and professional member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), founded SIGMA to provide the practical futurism of science fiction writers to vital national needs. A former ASME White House Fellow in OSTP, he retired from Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque as Manager of the Advanced Manufacturing Initiatives Department. He then co-founded several high-tech companies. He previously had a career with AT&T Bell Labs, and worked at White Sands Missile Range, NM. He is presently an Environment Program Manager for the US Navy at Corpus Christi, TX. He has published over 300 stories, articles, computer books and opinion pieces in 80 venues worldwide, including the first White House endorsement of nanotechnology in 1993.

I had the pleasure to talk with the whole group at some length on topics ranging from counterinsurgency, robots in war, and more. On the former, there was an interesting (half-hearted?) suggestion for settling a Muslim population (I won’t attribute the quote):

Grind up and aerosolize pigs, spray it over an unruly population. Let the population know what just happened and remind them they won’t go to Heaven with pork in their systems so it’s not a good time to die.

Personally, this doesn’t feel like a good idea or ok… (Surely you have comments on that?)

On the topic of robots, we had an engaging discussion, but I’m keeping that to myself for now (I’m presenting a futures paper on robots in war in August).

This anecdote in USA Today seems far out,

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.

Until you link the story with successful DARPA experiments doing the same with humans except in humans it’s identifying objects of interest in recon images before it can be vocalized (in other words, faster image processing without wasting the time to speak or key anything).

Overall, it’s a fascinating group with deep memories, alternative visions that may not be too alternative afterall.

To answer Jason’s question about a website, I’m told they’re “working on it”. A likely reason why Arlan was so interested in the Blogging panel.

More on the DHS conference in another post.

Posted in War