I was lucky enough to be an invited speaker and guest at the 2010 Mad Scientist Future Technology Center, put on by TRADOC G-2, which is part of the US Army.  Other attendees were from various armed forces (including some form different countries), other science fiction writers, and subject matter experts in various science and technology areas.  The primary purpose of the seminar was to provide input to the Army as they plan for future force development.   This took place Wednesday through Friday of last week.

I only feel comfortable talking about parts of the experience (maybe I’m still processing – I live in personal world where I don’t spend much time – and particularly not three straight days – worrying about seriously bad threats to hope, health, and humanity).  I am glad there are people who watch our borders for a living, and I can see how it might be tough for them to maintain a sunny world view.  Since the next book in my series will need a lot more military characters, this will be good for my writing.

There were no lines for the women’s rooms.  Participation was primarily white males, many with grey hair.  This wasn’t a surprising demographic for this conference although I think some more youth (such as a few open-source maker-bot user types) and a few more women would have been nice to add.  There was some diversity in race, color, gender, and age, but any analysis would have yielded over half in a single basic demographic. That said, it was certainly a smart, thoughtful, and driven group of people.  I liked them.

We started off with a presentation from England by Ian Pearson, who made up diabolical potential weapons of mass destruction based on the anticipated capabilities of future technology. Next, Peter Bishop talked about future secenario building in general (more for me to learn) and I talked about near-term hard science fiction as one door to the future and gave some reading recommendations.  The last talk was a rapid-fire run-down of numerous current and likely future threats, setting the stage to drive us off to explore ways we might use science and technology, ways they might be used against us, counters for those, and so on.  After that, we spent a day and a half working in small groups and then reported out.

I am usually a positive futurist.  These three days were pretty chilling, and I now have a wild urge to get together a bunch of people at the same level to brainstorm ways to use science and technology to make a happier society.  Of course, there is an army to feed the threats to, and I’m not sure who to feed the glass-half-full scenarios to.  Maybe that’s what we do with our stories.

Some of the biggest threats include EMP weapons  (destroying the ability of our electronics to work, Bio-weapons and bio-nano weapons – imagine a blended biological and manufactured goo that corrodes metals, and serious economic warfare.  There was a lot more technology talked about – all of it available in open literature today – and maybe some of it will sneak into my stories or into one of my Futurismic columns.

On the whole, I came away with slightly more of a few things than I went in.  I came out more scared.  I came out more full of ideas I can incorporate in my current and future series.  I came out happy that a lot of things I do reference in the Silver Ship and the Sea series make sense in light of the military tech being discussed today.  And for the week’s surprise, I came out with more respect for the military than I went in with.  I didn’t go in disrespectful by any means – maybe just ignorant.  But I found the men and women who were at the Mad Scientist 2010 Conference were smart, concerned, brave, worried, and pretty realistic as well.  They see many of the same trends we civilian futurists do – that our power balance against other large economies is unsteady, our education system needs serious help, and the next few decades are going to be risky for us and for the world.

I took slight comfort from the fact that on the flight out, I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Lucky Strike,” which is a positive alternative history relating to the nuclear bomb.  Which, by the way, is a lovely story.

I’m glad I went.  And yes, I asked if it was okay to blog about it before I posted this!

What do you think we need to worry about for the next twenty years?