Monday, July 2, 2012

Who's Best to Anticipate Future Problems and Solutions?

According to Mr. Andrews it is a gaggle of science fiction writers meeting as a group called SIGMA.  This theme appears in an article titled: "Sigma: Summing Up Speculation".  This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Analog.  While I would agree with that premise, Mr. Andrews’ article is ultimately flawed. How so?

Technological progress is multidimensional. Mr. Andrews has only focused on the narrow application concerning the technology itself, not on how it would profoundly affect society. One disturbing example, the Patriot Act.  In that example, the focus is on pre-guessing a "technological" response to prevent/recover from a future terrorist act. What is missing, despite gratuitous references to Libertarians, the Arab Spring, and even the Gestapo, is that the Patriot Act (plus other legislation) is moving the US towards a police state. Out smarting the terrorists is vitally important, but a free thinking group, such as SIGMA should also be contemplating the effect of fighting terrorism or other "wars" on society itself.

Not only that, but Mr. Andrews, according to his article has consulted extensively with the Department of Homeland Security.  As such, I would have expected him to be very aware and sensitive to how security agencies need to operate in a free-society.  TechDirt writes; "We're still completely perplexed at how anyone in Congress could recognize that the NSA has refused to tell Congress how often it's violated the privacy of Americans without a warrant under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) -- and then still vote to renew it."  Mr. Andrews appears oblivious to this issue.  Do we really need a police state?

I would have thought that a gaggle of free-thinking Science Fiction authors (some of whom are Libertarians) would have been adverse to the application of technology to deprive citizens of their civil liberties in the name of "security". Below are some topical bullet points, that I would have expected SGMA to consider and make recommendations on.
  1. The concept of "sale" is being eliminated. Many manufactures of electronics claim that they retain ownership of the devices that you "buy".
  2. Manufactures are taking "control" of your electronic equipment. They can brick it at any time they wish. They also “sell” devices that must be in contact with “home” in order to work.
  3. Manufacturers are now abusing so-called "intellectual property" by using legal sledge hammers to stifle competition and innovation.
  4. The ability to reverse engineer stuff is being eliminated
  5. The Government is forcing some third parties, such as ISPs, to spy on their users (warrantless wiretapping).
  6. Due process is being eliminated. Through the DMCA and the delayed SOPA/PIPA, take-down notices can be issued without proof. We are moving from the concept of innocent until proven guilty, to where innocence has to be proved even if the accusations are false.
  7. Formerly legal activities are now being made illegal.
I would hope that the next time SIGMA meets that it will take a more holistic and Libertarian view. Outguessing the terrorists is a laudable goal, but it must NOT come at the expense of civil liberties or the freedom to pursue advances in the arts and sciences.

PS: Another version of this post appears on the Fantasy and Science Fiction forum website.