On the whole, I am touched by Harlan Mills' remarks. But I am bothered by two things. He says that I [Mills] regard SDI as a political question that will be ultimately settled in our political system by the 525 members of our Congress. I trust them to make the *WISEST* disposition possible of this question. I depend on the Congress to make the final, collective, decisions, in how to *BEST* reflect that strength for peace in political, diplomatic, and military matters. [Emphasis added by me] These comments reflect a trust in a rational process of government that I wish I could share; it almost sounds as though he believes that whatever decision the Congress makes will be right *by definition*. I have seen too many instances in which Congress manifestly did NOT do the right thing to believe in their collective wisdom. The nature of a democratic system forces me to *abide* by their decisions, but that is not the same thing as approving of them or believing in their wisdom. (On the other hand, I would not trade democracy for anything else.) At a somewhat more fundamental level, he states that .. it is somewhat misleading to convert the problem of SDI feasibility into the question of software perfection. ... The best man can do in any physical system is to reduce the probability of failure to low levels, not to zero. The latter statement is a position with which all TECHNICAL analysts agree: a perfect system is impossible. But the POLITICAL debate has been cast in terms of "Do you want to defend yourself or not?", "eliminating (NOT reducing) the threat of nuclear ballistic missiles" and "the immorality of threats to kill innocent civilians". The technical analysis of the political questions posed above is absolutely clear, and is that it is impossible to develop technology that will allow us to get rid of offensive nuclear weapons and shrug off nuclear missiles should they happen to be launched our way). Technical analysts then debate the technically more interesting question of what CAN be done, in which case Mills' comment that ... the intent of most scientists and engineers working on SDI is to explore the technical side intelligently enough to provide the widest range of options possible for the political and diplomatic side. makes a great deal of sense. But SDI supporters in the political arena find THIS question much less interesting. The support that SDI garners from the population at large, and indeed from those that push it arises from the fact that defense against ballistic missiles is a truly revolutionary possibility, that will result in a military posture that is qualitatively different from that which exists at present. It won't, as SDI supporters admit when pushed; they say defenses will enhance deterrence, and that we will still have to accept societal vulnerability and to rely on the threat of retaliation to deter Soviet attack. Looking at the question from another side, all technical analysts agree that it is possible to build SOMETHING that sometimes does some fraction of what you want it to do, and the interesting technical questions are what is the nature of this something, what will it be able to do, and how often can it do it. But the political debate is cast against the backdrop of technology that is capable of meeting a certain absolute level of performance, and a rather high one at that. The technology to do THAT is much more demanding — if the level of performance is societal perfection, then it's not reachable at all. The political proponents try to have it both ways; they want the political support that comes from belief in the feasibility of this very demanding technology, and they try to deflect technical criticism of this political position by saying the question is one of discovering what technology can do. Thus, until the broader political debate can be recast in terms of the desirability of IMPERFECT defenses, and SDI supporters concede POLITICALLY that defenses will not do what is being claimed for it, technical analysts, in my view, are fully justified in pointing out that perfection is not possible. When SDI supporters make this concession, the perfect defense issue will become a dead horse politically as well as technically, and we can all go on to talk about more interesting things.
From: Richard A. Cowan <COWAN> You have here touched upon what I believe is — more often than not — a delusion: that it is more effective to work within the system to change it than to protest it from without. Without addressing the specific merits of doing SDI work at this time, I think this statement needs qualification. There is a role for people outside the system. There is also one for people inside the system. Activists are necessary to bring political pressure. But they have to have some technical credibility. As bad as things are in government now (with people believing in the Tooth Fairy,.. excuse me, I meant perfect ballistic missile defense), there is only minimal support for other things that other people would also like to have — teaching creationism in the schools for one. The reason is that there is NO serious scientific opinion that creationism has any literal validity at all. I can assure you that if there were, the battle to keep creationism out of the textbooks would be a lot more difficult to fight. Technical credibility is not the same thing as being "inside the system". But "the system" does many things, some of which are probably right, and others wrong. But should that mean that people should give up on the whole thing? Some of the most effective critics of the system are those who have extensive experience in it — Richard Garwin comes to mind as a prime example. His effectiveness comes about because he knows what he is talking about, and it is hard to imagine that he could have developed his expertise had he remained forever outside the system. By contrast, Kosta Tsipis — while he has made a rather significant name for himself in the public domain — has been identified in most of the public debate that I have heard as a flake who instinctively knee-jerks against US defense; Tsipis has never been part of "the system". (This is not to make a judgement about the quality of Tsipis' work.) Then why doesn't the system stop doing silly things? I guess the answer has to take the form — if you think things are bad now, just imagine how much worse they would be without the likes of Garwin. While being technically right doesn't necessarily mean that your position will win, being technically wrong is often the kiss of death.
I'd like to add a small comment to Richard Cowan's remarks. One concern about SDI spinoffs is that DoD gets to choose some of them. I wonder if, for example, we are going to see more incidents like the ASATing of Solar Max--a fully working scientific satellite whose routine operating grant renewal was turned down last summer to provide a suitable test target. ucbvax!brahms!weemba Matthew P Wiener/UCB Math Dept/Berkeley CA 94720
The archetypal computer risk is of course unemployment. With regard to this issue, does anyone know what sort of inroads page and form scanners are or are not making into the data entry industry, and what features are pacing or retarding penetration into that market? Or would anyone have any suggestions of whom I might call to find out more? [Please respond privately to Fred unless your response has RISKS-related implications. PGN]
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