Thursday, June 17, 2004

There exist smart bad people.

For the sake of argument, let's suppose that the "War on Terror" is actually appopriately classified as a war--or maybe more generally, a tactical confrontation, or a game that happens to have horrifying consequences. This is a very nontrivial supposition, but, like I said, "for the sake of argument..." I will now demonstrate that "winning" this war, for the non-terrorist side of the conflict, is a painfully remote prospect.

Let's make a definition: a person is to be called smart if s/he is (1) good at learning things and (2) creative in inventing, possibly novel, solutions to problems. It's a limited definition, but I think it will serve.

Has this beginning been dry enough? Hopefully, it will get better from here.

I've been listening to news radio an awful lot these days (as I don't have a television, and in silence, I tend to talk to myself a bit more than is probably healthy), so I've heard a number of government officials, from the FAA, NORAD, etc., make claims that, I think, boil down to the following: For any situation, in order to expect an adequate response, the situation must be trained for. I obtain this from statements like "No one ever told us about the possibility of..."; presumably, one could interpret this differently... but fug 'dat. Now, "training" an organization the size of the FAA or The Air Force is not something you do over a weekend. Then, even if you, the Anti-Terrorist, have a cabal of smart people at your disposal predicting vulnerabilities and inventing countermeasures, it's not feasible to counter every member of the class of vulnerabilities. For example, I, alone, not a smart person, can probably think of, say, ten independent attacks based on my knowledge of the situation; even if the Anti-Terrorist realizes all ten of these, how fast can he actually implement the countermeasures for, say, five of them? So, the Anti-Terrorist has to deal with a pretty gross disadvantage. Unfortunately, there probably exist smart terrorists, so this disadvantage is, in fact, very likely to be exploited at some time in the future, regardless of the resources the Anti-Terrorist commits to the game and even if every countermeasure is appropriately and adequately implemented. (As Anti-Terrorist=President, the "even if..." is off the table; for example, morbidly screening passenger IDs is not actually countermeasure to anything.) You may also have heard that humans have solved some very hard problems--say harder than computer voting machines and less hard than contructing the regular n-gon, for definiteness. Blowing stuff up is probably between those.

In this game, the Terrorist can't actually lose so long as he's alive and free, and the Anti-Terrorist wins only if s/he prevents every attack, forever. The only winning strategy for Anti-Terrorist is to capture/kill every single terrorist for all time. This is preposterous. If you think it's not preposterous, you're dumb. Example: human beings (every terrorist, by the way, is assumed to be a human being) are born in large numbers everyday; some of these people may be both smart and mean; it follows, the supply of terrorists is inexhaustible. Thus, Anti-Terrorist loses the game.

So, if you=Anti-Terrorist, and you decide to play this game, at least one of two things must be true. You haven't thought this all the way through, or you're not particularly interested in the consequences. (One might say that it's necessary, regardless, to maintain preparedness to whatever degree you're capable. Well, sure. But if that's all you plan to do to deal the existence of Smart Terrorist, you should know what's coming.) Assuming that you are in possession of a collection of smart people of your own, maybe their efforts would be better spent in imagining novel ways of getting out of the game; so that when smart, mean people do mean things it's apparent that the only motivation is the fact of being mean. It's possible that there is a solution that is not the same as capitulation.

So this post is a little embarrassing, but i'll post it anyway. I should, in the future, spend some time thinking before I start typing.