Science Fiction Writers Helping Imagine Future Threats

The French army is going to put together a team of science fiction writers to help imagine future threats.

Leaving aside the question of whether science fiction writers are better or worse at envisioning nonfictional futures, this isn’t new. The US Department of Homeland Security did the same thing over a decade ago, and I wrote about it back then:

A couple of years ago, the Department of Homeland Security hired a bunch of science fiction writers to come in for a day and think of ways terrorists could attack America. If our inability to prevent 9/11 marked a failure of imagination, as some said at the time, then who better than science fiction writers to inject a little imagination into counterterrorism planning?

I discounted the exercise at the time, calling it “embarrassing.” I never thought that 9/11 was a failure of imagination. I thought, and still think, that 9/11 was primarily a confluence of three things: the dual failure of centralized coordination and local control within the FBI, and some lucky breaks on the part of the attackers. More imagination leads to more movie-plot threats—which contributes to overall fear and overestimation of the risks. And that doesn’t help keep us safe at all.

Science fiction writers are creative, and creativity helps in any future scenario brainstorming. But please, keep the people who actually know science and technology in charge.

Last month, at the 2009 Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders Conference in Washington D.C., science fiction writers helped the attendees think differently about security. This seems like a far better use of their talents than imagining some of the zillions of ways terrorists can attack America.

Posted on July 23, 2019 at 6:27 AM43 Comments


Old Bull Lee July 23, 2019 6:41 AM

I generally agree, but it would depend on which writers or which subgenre of science fiction we’re talking about. For example, some of the “hard sci-fi” writers from the Golden Age weren’t just writers, they were active in science and technology fields.

Larry Sanderson July 23, 2019 7:14 AM

Ittsa mixed bag. People in the hard sciences are often not the most imaginative people in the world. You really need the paranoids, with somebody to sort out the impossible from the unlikely. The only problem being that most sane people would have put 9/11 into the impossible file before 9/11.

Petre Peter July 23, 2019 8:28 AM

I don’t think we can protect ourselves against all the movie-plot scenarios. Paranoia can be good for security if it’s backed by science but at that point is no longer paranoia. It’s very difficult to imagine the future-remember they didn’t have cell phones in Blade Runner they had flying cars which would mean that any1 with a flying car can be a potential terrorist. We fail to imagine the future because there is nothing fictional about since.

Tatütata July 23, 2019 8:50 AM

Yesterday I asked whether a machine can do “good” bad writing. But can a bureaucracy commission good fiction writing? They might as well hire surrealists, with their “écriture automatique” (“automatic writing”, you basically try to jot down your stream of consciousness) and “exquisite corpses“. When archives are opened in the future, I’m sure that a historian will find much nonsense of the kind revealed by FOIA requests to US TLAs…

If AI is advanced enough, I would place more trust into fuzz testing, where the machine hashes out scenarios from given starting elements, and humans see whether they make any sense.

But who will read and analyse the produced output? (Generals in any uniform aren’t reknowned for their imagination or their “vivacité d’esprit”.).

Fiction had an answer, with the “Three Days of the Condor” (1975).

From the Wikipedia description:

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a bookish CIA analyst, code named “Condor”. He works at the American Literary Historical Society in New York City, which is actually a clandestine CIA office. The seven staff members read books, newspapers, and magazines from around the world, looking for hidden meanings and other useful information. Turner files a report to CIA headquarters on a thriller novel with some strange plot elements, noting the unusual assortment of languages it has been translated into.

The film is itself prescient in many ways, e.g., the cynicism over oil and resource wars. I found the props fascinating, especially in the first minutes with the book reading machine, with the automatic page turning scanner, the Chinese OCR, and real-time translation, and all that powered by a mighty PDP-8. 🙂 I believe that the producers had the support of DEC. (The 024 keypunch really looks out of place, though).

I looked at the images of the parade. It had a “theme”, “innovation”, but the thing has a very gimmicky feel to it, with the flying soldier (the inventor Zapata is actually known for water jetpacks!), the drone jammer (I’m skeptical about the EMC effectiveness of a device with the constraints of a shoulder weapon), and the assorted robots, where only Wall-E and R2D2 were missing.

(BTW, if at some point someone realizes from the exercise that all that high-tech weaponry and intelligence gathering is useless, will he speak-up or hush-up the finding?)

Josh Rubin July 23, 2019 9:17 AM

Hiring science fiction writers as advisors? This happens in the novel “Footfall” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Things that look like baby elephants invade Earth. They are winning, but they “think different.”

rjh July 23, 2019 9:32 AM

The notion of idea generation from SF writers has a long history, with mixed results.

This particular concept is partly driven by the intense private criticisms of the many official statements about 9/11 being a totally new and unthinkable type of attack. I, among many, pointed out the Tom Clancy novel read by tens of millions, where a major plot point was flying an airliner into the Capitol Building. Sure it was full of incorrect details, but the attack concepts were the same. That book was widely read within the military and security communities during 1995.

They just didn’t take it seriously. It was just fiction. So they made the silly “totally new” statements without laughing.

The problem then as now was an inability to take novel or different attack vectors seriously. This inability has a long history.

Harlequin Ellison July 23, 2019 9:42 AM

For all the good it does, they should have just got whoever wrote that romance novel that was mentioned here late last week.

VJ July 23, 2019 11:21 AM

There’s also the Threatcasting Lab out of Arizona State (; this seems to fall in line with this. It seems to be a way for people to expand their idea(s) of threats and possibilities. I’m not sure how active they are right now, but thought I’d share.

K.S. July 23, 2019 11:24 AM

If TSA starts performing random cavity searches looking for Mega Seeds, I will know exactly why.

mark July 23, 2019 11:26 AM

Bruce! You know better.

I mean, as long as it’s actual science fiction writers, not movie script writers (or military sf/porn), governments have been doing that for a long time. Lessee, Niven and Pournelle were on a panel, with scientists and engineers, under… was it Raygun?

Tatütata July 23, 2019 1:14 PM

Agatha Christie’s Mrs. Marple (as played by Margaret Rutherford) also used her abundant collection of crime fiction as reference material to solve her own (fictional) cases.

À propos Raygun, when he took office he asked to see the War Room, genuinely expecting to be taken to a place resembling the set Ken Adam designed for Dr. Strangelove. He received puzzled looks.

But the reality of the Cold War arms race had way too much in common with Stanley Kubrick’s fiction, with its “Global targets in megadeaths“, its mutual assured destruction, its doomsday machine, its nutty generals…

And JFK facilitated the filming of fiction (Frankenheimer’s “Seven days in May“) to put across a disturbing real message.

VinnyG July 23, 2019 1:48 PM

Robert A. Heinlein provided a fairly plausible cookbook for a low-tech lunar colony attack on the mother planet in “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.” In fairness, in the novel, the attack was in response to exploitation of colonists, and targets were chosen to avoid loss of life, but the proposed technology is agnostic about such conditions. I do note that renewed lunar exploration is on the docket of the current US administration…

Clive Robinson July 23, 2019 5:03 PM

@ Bruce,

The US Department of Homeland Security did the same thing over a decade ago,

Yes and if you look back every decade to the start of the B-Movies you will find this idea come up. As many of the posters above have in effect pointed out.

My guess is that politicos did not like the messages they were getting from scientists. The B-Movies gave expectations that science could not then deliver. However ScFi and other Fiction does not have to be “hard constrained” by what our current knowledge of the laws of nature and leading edge technology define. Thus such authors have a greater degree of freedom.

As I once mentioned long ago on this blog starwars under “Ronnie Ray gun” very much showed the limitations od politicians and the crookedness of MIC Contractors.

As scientists were telling politicians at the time science was looking to use power in the 10e12 range and current leading edge technology was in the 10e6 range. An influential political person was heard to remark that “Were half way there”… Interesting to note that none of those working on SDI cared to correct him or his colleague, but did still “cash the cheques”…

Thus remember sometimes the likes of “Three Days of the Condor” have other messages in them that perhaps we should as citizens take real note of, whilst we still can…

@ All,

Oh and perhaps people should point out the number of “dystopian” technologies that people have thought up that have come true…

I’ll start with George Orwelland his “TV’s and Radios” that observe you in your home. Remember it’s not just Alexa, there are those Japanese / Korean TV’s and all that Chinese IoT…

Then there was those people laden down with 24×365.25 recording tech in the likes of Snowcrash where they made money much like modern day Paparazzi do. Or Robo-Cop and his evidence recording…

I’m sure there are many more examples going back to atleast the birth of ScFi and Crime novels in the Victorian era.

David July 23, 2019 5:57 PM

Next-generation AI with smart machine learning capabilities and big data neural networks will take care of this.

Rachel July 23, 2019 9:08 PM


I ‘see’ your Day of the Condor. And ‘raise’ you ‘A Beautiful Mind’

from wikipedia

John Nash, Princeton, Carnegie Scholarship for mathematics.
Invited to the Pentagon to crack encrypted enemy telecommunications. Nash can decipher the code mentally, to the astonishment of other decrypters.

Nash offered a job, help decode the messages to detect a bomb the Soviets had been hiding. The code is said to be found in normal magazines, newspapers and such. He is to look for patterns in magazines and newspapers in order to thwart a Soviet plot. Nash becomes increasingly obsessive about searching for these hidden patterns and believes he is followed when he delivers his results to a secret mailbox.

All hallucinations from a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia

Wael July 23, 2019 10:10 PM

@Rachel, @Tatütata,

John Nash, Princeton, Carnegie Scholarship for mathematics…


I ‘see’ your Day of the Condor. And ‘raise’ you ‘A Beautiful Mind’

‘A Beautiful Mind’! Must be a peach of a hand. I guess I just have to call!

Bong-Smoking Primitive Monkey-Brained Spook July 23, 2019 10:48 PM

The French army is going to put together a team of science fiction writers to help imagine future threats.

And who’s going to slap together a team of science fiction writers to help imagine defenses against future threats?

Our “writers” are better than their “writers” 🙂

Wael July 24, 2019 12:43 AM

@Bruce’s opinion evolution:

Terrorists Don’t Do Movie Plots

Evolved to:

Terrorists Do Science Fiction Movie Plots

Defense: make sure the movies are not subtitled 😉

Next evolutionary steps:

1- Have Terrorists write movie scripts!
2- …

Terrorist 1: Dude! Have you seen that movie?
Terrorist 2: Yea! That movie rocks – literally! But this other movie is even better. You get more bang for the buck, so to speak! No pun intended.
Terrorist 1: We wrote that script, you idiot. It’s pure science fiction!
Terrorist 2: Oh! I guess we’ll keep it for the future then.
Terrorist 3: Ain’t prime time for this sort of technology! But still: movie plots are double-edged swords! Keep ’em coming!

NortonSpam July 24, 2019 3:18 AM

What NortonSpam really meant to say was how antivirus spyware actually endangers your system:

  • elevated permissions
  • a sweet hacking target
  • sniffs and peruses as many files as possible
  • SFA protection against zero day attacks in reality
  • false sense of security means users install more dubious software
  • false warnings galore
  • some companies will have adopted a Google ‘collect-it-all in perpetuity’ meta-data strategy that will be exposed in years to come
  • probably work in concert with feds regularly, particularly if produced in lawless jurisdictions (that’s everywhere BTW inc. the US)

In order words, paying for insecurity and increasing the chances of having your ass hacked.

1&1~=Umm July 24, 2019 3:26 AM


“Next-generation AI with smart machine learning capabilities and big data neural networks will take care of this.”

No they will not, so called ‘Smart Learning’ is not ‘creative thinking’.

You first need to understand the limitations of a ‘determanistic process’ a ‘random process’ a ‘chaotic process’ and a ‘quantum process’.

Then you need to understand why the nominally accepted models of conscious thought do not explain ‘creativity’.

Then you need to get to grips with what was originally seen as ‘crack-pot’ thinking originating back in the 1980’s that is starting to get traction now that quantum processes in biology have been shown to exist.

Thus have a readup on the Penrose-Hameroff conjecture or as is now more often called the ‘Orch OR’ theory of consciousness.

Whilst the process mechanism may not be nano-tubes, it is increasingly looking as though some quantum process is involved in the creative thinking process.

Clive Robinson July 24, 2019 5:37 AM

@ Ismar,

Saying “Reality is stranger than fiction “ is why this will never work

There is a reason why fiction is always less than the extreams of reality, “It has to be sufficiently believable” to sell. Thus it has to stay within the norms of what potential customers consider the “reality”.

The classic piece of historic “unbelievable” is Franklin’s key in a jar hung from a silk kite string in a storm getting struck by lightning and thus charging the Leydon jar. Whilst there is a very very small probability it might have be lightning the usuall response by anyone with any modern knowledge in this area of physics would be “Not in this Universe bud”. After all look up fulgurites[1] to see what the energies involved can do, and why the Ben Franklin story is not believed by them.

When you dig into the story you actually find there are two “lost in translation” problems. The first was unbknown to Franklin his theoretical idea and musings of how an experiment might be done got translated into French and the theoretical and musing bits did not come across. Thus somebody in Paris actually did his metal rod experiment and found it to be spectacularly successful (which is why buildings have lightning conductors and cables tend to be burried in Western Europe).

Secondly whilst Franklin did write proposing using a kite, there is no evidence he ever did it, and if he did that it was struck by lightnening. The problem was a later writer Joseph Priestley who wrote it up a decade and a half later as though it had been done…

As technology and science has moved along in the intervining quater millennium or so, we now know from other events that if his kite string had created a path to ground for lightbing the ionisation would have turned the key the jar and anyone standing near by into “smoked history”.

However all that said there is actually a rational explanation and it happens way more than most would consider, and not only have I witnessed it I’ve had the misfortune to get a heart thumping shock because of the failure of a protection mechanism.

If you put an object –even an insulator– into falling rain, or strong wind then the friction involved builds up charge on the object (this is NOT what some incorectly call “ambient charge”). This charge is generally in the 0-10,000V static range where upon the air at high impedence charge points will start to be ionised (corona discharge). The only way to stop this build up of static is to “Earth it out” which is why radio masts have “lightning protection” but the actual antennas and feed lines have “static protection” as well.

If you have seen some “long wire antennas” at night in the rain you can sometimes see the static “corona” discharging into the air, and depending on the environment you might actually hear it buzz faintly. This is in effect a form of low grade “St Elmos Fire” that has been reported by sailors for centuries. And for about a century radio operators have called it “QRN”.

There are now well known ways to discharge static build up on antennas such as a high value resistor –over ten times the antenna impedence– in parallel with a high value –hundred turns around a 1-2 inch diameter PVC pipe– inductor. But whilst they will protect you against static build up they will get reduced to little balls of plasma if you get a real lightning strike, thus you still need a “spak gap” lightning arrestor properly grounded to atleast four earth rods with minimum inductance[2]. Thus if Benjamin Frankline did actually fly a kite in a rain storm he may well have seen charge build up in the Layden jar and might even have felt an electric shock. But lightning very very unlikely (though he might have been hit by an upwards “pilot stroke” that did not get to the cloud base, they can throw you around without turning bits of you into a bubble of plasma).

Oh and the static problem is the one that causes overhead power and phone cables to be so unreliable. It’s why quite a few European countries have regulations about burying such cables. Oh and buried cables also reducess not just static by a lot they do it for lightning and the effects of EMP and Solar Ejector. Thus the additional cost is more than worth it by lives and property damage saved and reduced long term maintanence costs.


[2] I once went to do a repair/upgrade on a TX outstation where unbeknown to me the antenna had been struck by lightning and replaced, but importantlt nobody had checked the static protection and ground/earth system (a fairly dull day long process). So when I arived I set the interlocks removed power from the TX rack and hung the “earth wand” on the feed point, and disconnected the feed at the TX rack. I then Pulled out the old TX units and set to work testing stuff in the rack and upgrading parts and ran tests. Meanwhile the weather had turned and whilst there was not lightning there was strong wind and some rain… When I went to pick up the feed to reconect it to the rack was when I discovered that despite my precautions charge had been building. And my cry of pain and shock was nothing compared to my language when I found out the earth system had failed and why.

Ismar July 24, 2019 6:43 AM

Re your mention of Penrose and quantum aspects of our brain I was wandering if you would agree with me that a well tested placebo effect and it’s consequences of changing the physical brain structure can be a good argument towards the support of the much disputed Penrose’s theory on the quantum nature of consciousness?

OhGee July 24, 2019 7:23 AM

Penrose’s theory is partially correct, IMO. The effects of bio-photons are easily absorbed/eliminated by interaction with the environment (i.e. the environment causes the loss of coherence/entanglement properties). But – it is likely possible that the physics Penrose is talking about can be exploited – to manipulate subconscious activity. Our brains are inundated not so much with bio-photons from the “collective environment” – but with an enormous amount of high frequency energy of artificial origin. For example, the power density from a smart phone when held close to the head approximates the density one would get if he climbed the cell tower to get close to the antennas. It’s enormous – in relative terms.

Photons of any frequency can be entangled – it’s just a matter of whether or not resonance (power transfer, i.e. photon transfer) can be achieved. It’s not scient fiction at all – IMO – and I am a science fiction writer.

On a side note, about “hard science fiction”: A number of such individuals are working physicists.

Tatütata July 24, 2019 8:19 AM

Re: “A beautiful mind”

Thanks Rachel; I never saw it, It is apparently more something of a biography than fiction, but I’ll check it out. I’m slightly apprehensive, as I was very disappointed by another film on an apparently related subject, “The Imitation Game” (2014). (It was both the script and that Cumberbatch ham as Turing). The same year “Castles in the Sky“, with a similarly “accurate” depiction of the story of radar, and of Watson-Watt.

Re: Penrose

I read the “Emperor’s New Mind” when the paperback came out 30 years ago. I remember it as mind blowing for the first 300 pages, with Gödel and Turing (again!) and the proof of the incompleteness theorem, but then the author dawdles on his quantum brain hypothesis, which couldn’t convince me. It reminded me of the creationist argument that the complexity of an organ such as the eye is proof of the existence of an intelligent designer. Penrose substitutes the brain for the eye, and quantum physics for God, with a similar result.

newguy July 24, 2019 9:48 AM

@OP More imagination leads to more movie-plot threats — which contributes to overall fear and overestimation of the risks. And that doesn’t help keep us safe at all.

I don’t buy this at all. Imagination reflects the fear that people already have. It does not cause the fear.

Also, given the low cost of this exercise, I can’t see anything wrong with it. Brainstorming cannot lead to anything negative. They’re coming up with ideas, not making the decisions.

Further, it is arrogant to believe that “only people that know science and technology” can have important ideas related to that science and technology. Perhaps this exact breed of elitism is why we currently have Google doing its best to engage in mass propaganda via its news feeds.

Do the technocrats really know what’s best for society? I doubt it. Do they have the best imaginations for perceiving future threats, when they cannot even perceive the evil they do themselves? I doubt that, too.

Alyer Babtu July 24, 2019 1:05 PM

Re: A Beautiful Mind

The film I think catches Nash in a poetical way, but is not a dramatization of literal historical incidents. It’s amazing how well Russell Crowe portrays Nash given that physically they are quite unlike. The film’s window scribblings seemed to completely miss the character of Nash’s Fine Hall blackboard writings (cf. the Phantom of Fine Hall). The blackboard messages were persuasive, allusive mixtures (probably unsound) of world (and universe) events at large and the high mathematics of the day. They showed analogical juxtapositions reminding one of what is seen in development of modern mathematics.

Rachel July 24, 2019 6:00 PM


John Nash film ‘A Beautiful Mind’

My apologies for being too metaphorical. I am not recommending the film at all, certainly not. It sucks. I suspect you’d be offended by the film and irritated with me. I only shared it in contrast to your Condor offering. As in,
while your film suggested a realistic possiblity of hidden messages in print media. ‘My’ film was showing how, expecting to find patterns in media about a Soviet plan was actual insanity. From a brilliant mathematician, no less. And it wasn’t just fiction, it happened.

Agreed about The Imitation Game. An absolute disgrace to Turing, and those that came before him. Deserves more than a few swear words.

Herein lies the perils of seeking hidden messages in text. I present to you, the
Shakespeare Code. Shakespeare telgraphed his final resting place amongs other things. This dude actually managed to present this shite at the Globe Theatre.

The following sentence from the above article had me falling over laughing for literally days. This is the Guardian!

“People have been trying to do this for ages. What I worked out was, don’t just look in vertical columns for words going vertically downwards. Look for shapes. That changed everything … The messages were in crosses, shapes and rebuses.”

Back to the blog post,
The one single reason supporting the employment of science fiction writers by the government, can be described by one word. Employment. I’m all for writers actually receiving a living wage, and a government one no less! Fanastic.

vas pup July 25, 2019 1:23 PM

@Clive: You’ll enjoy this article:

In particular:”The urge to do some good with data – even if it was obtained in an unethical way – comes with its own problems. Aside from carrying the weight of complicity, does using the findings tell current and future researchers that it’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission?

“There’s something very particular about knowledge, that it’s irreversible. You can’t unknow something,” says Wilkinson. “One concern of using the data is that it expresses the attitude that this research was okay, and encourages future researchers – ‘history will judge me positively’. We want to not do that. We don’t want to promote unethical research.”

Do you remember that poor monk who developed choking machine for Pope several centuries ago and then, due to some kind of argument with Pope, was choked by the same machine.
Scientist/other professionals be aware of that as well.

Clive Robinson July 25, 2019 2:50 PM

@ Vas pup,

I’ve been aware of the issues for many years. Back when I was just a teenager I got trapped under ice whilst out canoeing.

My life was initially saved by a fisherman who saw me under the ice fighting to get out, he jumped into the ice breaking it and dragged me to the bank.

We did not have mobile phones back then and by the time an ambulance had been called and I’d been got to hospital my core body temprature had dropped. The treatment I was given I later found out had researched by German doctors, wanting to help keep alive German pilots shot down over the English Channel and other places. Slightly later still I discovered just what that research involved.

Two things saved my life on that day. Firstly the fisherman who willingly jumped into freezing water through about an inch and a half of ice to drag me out at great risk to himself, an act of not just bravery but kindness to a stranger. Secondly the hospital treatment based on WWII German experiments into hypothermia carried out on people who had no choice and in all probability died a slow and painfull death.

For years this knowledge haunted me and a friend introduced me to his uncle who had somehow survived the death camps. His advice to me was to stay thankfull to both the fisherman and those who had died in the camps, as he said, who else is left to not just be thankfull for their sacrifice but to remember them as what they were, just ordinary people who gave their all. He also went on to say that bad as what happened was it would be wrong not to use the data as it gave meaning every day to their sacrifice, and gave hope that the knowledge of it would stop it happening again. And that not to do so would make their sacrafice meaningless.

It’s a tough thing to think about, after all man kills man everyday in the name of some ideology or other. Those who die rarely have choice, and their lives rarely have meaning outside of the horror of their deaths. Whilst we remember those who fought in wars and their loss, does it stop other wars? Are their names anything other than fading inscriptions on a monument after two or three generations?

In most cases our fate is recorded in national records, that mark our birth, passage through life and death. Open for all to look at and do with that data what they please. The Mormons have the largest geniological database due to this, and it’s been claimed that every name in there has been baptised into their faith… If true is that moral or ethical?

Yet historians and scientists use the data on our deaths without qualms or moral questions, frequently not even anonymously.

Likewise those unfortunate to have been killed in otherways, such as accidents, ordinary people that have died tragically, that have become in their deaths not just data but baners in newspapers, and in some cases the face of campaigns. Is the use of their death to raise money for charity or legal campaigns any more moral or ethical?

I have no answers, but twice each year I stand with others, many now much younger than myself in remembrance of those who have payed the price in some measure that I am still here to think kindly of them and the sacrifices they made, and furverently hope that no more sacrafices need ever be payed again. But also I think of them at other times, the quiet times in life, with the hope that they now have peace.

vas pup July 25, 2019 3:03 PM

Scientists use phone movement to predict personality types:

“”Many of our habits and behaviors are unconscious but, when analyzed, they tell us a lot about who we really are so we can understand ourselves better, resist social pressure to conform and to empathize with others. Most importantly, being who we truly are can make our experience of life richer, more exciting and more meaningful.”

“In Ancient Greece there is a saying about knowing yourself as the beginning of wisdom, applications like this can really help to reveal who we are to ourselves.”

The results were analyzed in accordance with the Big Five personality traits, which are:

•Extraversion: how energetic, sociable and talkative you are.
•Openness: how curious and inventive you are.
•Agreeableness: how friendly and compassionate, rather than suspicious and hostile, you are to others.
•Conscientiousness: how organized, efficient and careful you are.
•Neuroticism: how nervous and sensitive, rather than confident and secure, you are.”

My take: the most important is to monitor changes out of base line, e.g. changes in accelerometer data obtained from the bracelet during sleeping time could even predict future suicide attempt. I guess same could be utilized in prison environment to predict riots, escapes, violent outbursts. BUT, establishing proper base line is important as the first step.

Alyer Babtu July 26, 2019 1:40 AM


realistic possiblity of hidden messages

Shakespeare Code

The funny thing is that there is a strong case, well researched by scholars for over 80 years at least, for disguised messages in Shakespeare, namely Catholic commentary on the evils of the time. In fact most of his writings plays poetry can be read just as Catholic spiritual reading. There seems to be a connection with Robert Southwell.

Somewhat surprising that Alexander Waugh would follow the centuries long stale crackpot line in Shakespeare decoding, given that he is descended from Evelyn Waugh, who was a notable convert.

Rachel July 26, 2019 5:38 AM

Alyer Babtu

Thankyou. One of the more refined and memorable examples of makework.
Some of the comments on the Guardian article were very entertaining, as well as insightful. It was pointed out the apparent conspiracy would have required preserving the secret for 170 years. And not just by those opposed to Shakespeare, but by actors, no less.

Hmm, I’m thinking searching this blog for topic ‘Shakespeare’ is going to bring me some treasure

A Nonny Bunny July 27, 2019 2:19 PM

@Larry Sanderson

People in the hard sciences are often not the most imaginative people in the world.

I don’t think they’re less imaginative than other groups of people, as long as you consider their respective fields of interest. You can’t think up good experiments if you’re not imaginative. Heck, thinking of a good problem to examine probably taxes most people’s imagination too far.

Palomino July 27, 2019 5:48 PM

It would be a lot more useful if people were hired to imagine present and future solutions instead of the opposites. It’s more useful psychologically as well as in terms of futurism and it’s helpful results.

P.S. = some interesting timelines, as usual, ~ 2005 seems to be a bad time

I have this feeling, also, that many of the so called “free” linux distros were or are still actually covert commercial distros. This is implied by some historical version release patterns especially when compared to already known commerical distros.

This is a subtle pattern if you aren’t used to looking for it. I think I found it, yet it was an accidental discovery. I wasn’t looking for it. I don’t know how confirmation bias does or does not factor into this, so please think about this carefully before rebutting me.

Yet, I think this topic is valid enough as a concern in this sudden age of M$ git and M$ linux and SUSE and Android/”smartphone”/mobile/etc and all the like.

5G hype does not impress me. I remember being wowed by decent sounding and as good as telephone quality 11 kHz monaural “snd ” within 800 K Apple Macintosh HyperCard scripts.

I realised that it wouldn’t take much after that to create fully digital audio within an operating system not much larger than 1 MiB. Nevertheless, the computer industry always fills in the headspace with bloatware no matter what.

take care.

Stephen Welch July 27, 2019 6:04 PM

Lets just react to what science fiction brings.

Lets just react to what SCIENCE brings – which is probably more important but, I imagine good science fiction is not without precept from good science. I can’t remember the stats about successful patents lodged, etc, from ‘Tom Cruise’s’ film Minority Report so …

From the point of view of being a terrorist – I imagine the more imagination I have the more sucessfully I will be?

As always success over the long term is about the right blend, not just having “people who actually know science and technology in charge”.

Think DevOps.

Ralph M Hitchens July 27, 2019 9:11 PM

All very interesting about the Sci-Fi writers, but most direct cause of 9/11 was the CIA’s “need to know” policy. In 2000 the Agency had, with the cooperation of some foreign intelligence services, identified two al-Qaeda members who attended a kind of “terrorist summit meeting” in Malaysia, if I am recalling correctly. CIA had the names they were traveling under & passport info on one of them, thanks to a “bag job.” From Malaysia these two Jihadists flew to the US and resided, for a time, with a legal immigrant who was probably a deep-cover AQ resource — he’d been on the FBI’s radar for a while in the 1990s but was eventually dropped from surveillance after doing nothing suspicious for years. The two Jihadists remained in the US, were in phone contact with many of the other 9/11 terrorists, and joined them on Sept. 11th. But the CIA had never shared the information on these two men with the FBI. Had the Agency done so they could have been tracked, phones tapped, and other Jihadists arrested. But “need to know” trumped everything, and nearly 3,000 Americans died because of it. As Casey said, you could look it up.

Wesley Parish July 28, 2019 4:17 AM

Well, as someone who has attempted the task of actually writing SF and Fantasy/Horror as opposed to only reading it, my feeling is: it’d be a good job with good pay, for those who get it. The chance of them actually turning up something useful is not great though. “Hard” SF is often not so hard – Stephen Baxter of the Xeelee Sequence, is both a Dr in engineering, and a writer of what can only be described as fantasy novels. Lots of handwaving therein. He’s also quite enjoyable to read – but his Xeelee Sequence novels I consider to be as “hard” science as Iain Banks’ Culture series novels. If you want his “hardest” science novel, read Evolution.

You see, the thing about “predictions” of the future is they have to be based on close observation of the present. JG Ballard alone of all the writers of SF in the late 20th C., would not have been surprised by the current flood of European right-wing fanaticism – read his Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes.

As far as “please, keep the people who actually know science and technology in charge“, that depends on how trustworthy they prove themselves to be. And how close the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is to their hands.

(I’ve just remembered, there is case history on predictions of the future and their validity. Any book on the Battle of Britain worth its price, will contain information about a book, The Command of the Air written by General Giulio Douhet, which gave rise to the phrase, “The bomber will always get through“. The Battle of Britain and its subsequent sequels, the Battle of Europe and the Battle of the Pacific, were brutal and bloody commentaries on just how wrong the claim was. One could always remember this is the year of Blade Runner, FWVLIW. Nobody wants me on any extraterrestrial colony … I’m like JF Sebastian.)

Clive Robinson July 28, 2019 1:40 PM

@ Wesley Parish,

I was wondering when you were going to comment 😉

We’ve not seen you around as much these days.

Oh and I did find your story of the warewolf waking up next to fluffy funny, it reminded me of a few stories from when I used to wear the green, you’ld get to hear the old “nearly had to gnaw my arm of to escape in the morning” stories about why they were never going to drink that much again (till the next time 🙂

Wesley Parish July 29, 2019 5:02 AM

@Clive Robinson

Had some medical stuff happen, thought it best to take time off.

Re: SF – perhaps the best comment I ever read on the topic was in the preface/foreword of a collection of Cordwainer Smith’s short stories, The Instrumentality of Mankind, where the foreword writer, a friend of Cordwainer Smith’s – by then dead – remarked on his stories not being so much about predictions of things as much as the meaning of being human. He termed it eschatological though I think you could also term it teleological.

I doubt anybody reads Jerry Pournelle’s novels about the US and its Western Allies fighting the Soviets in space. I think people will still be reading Stephen Baxter, Vernor Vinge, Arthur C. Clarke and Iain Banks etc., for the next few hundred years – assuming our species doesn’t join everyone else in the Sixth Extinction Event we’re causing.

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