About ten years ago I wrote a short novel called The Religion War, a follow-up to God’s Debris. The plot was set in the not-too-distant future, which would be approximately now, and I made some predictions about how terrorism and anti-terrorism would evolve. Let’s see how I did.
The main plot element involved the idea that Islamic terrorists would regularly bomb targets in the United States using small “suicide” drones equipped with explosives and GPS guidance. I figured it was an obvious application of technology and there wouldn’t be any way to stop it. Right on schedule, an American born Al-Qaeda sympathizer recently got arrested for planning multiple attacks on Washington DC that would have used GPS-guided model planes.
Another plot device in The Religion War involved what we now call Big Data. The idea is that someday there would be so much data available about individual behavior that skilled programmers could mine it to make freakishly accurate predictions. In the book, one character accesses Big Data to search for the most influential person in the world. The so-called Prime Influencer is at the seed end of a vast social network that ultimately connects all of civilization. For plot purposes, the Prime Influencer isn’t aware of his or her power. The Prime Influencer is thought to have a way with words and a small circle of acquaintances that are moved by his or her opinions. But those people know more people, and so on. Any catchy idea from the Prime Influencer has the potential to quickly travel through the social fabric of civilization and change the world. But that’s fiction.
In the real world of today, corporations use Big Data to predict individual behavior with freakish accuracy. And we’ve also seen that one influential guy with a Facebook account can organize a revolution and take down a government. For story reasons, I needed my Prime Influencer to be one person. It’s unlikely the real world only has one such influential person. But I predict that someday the world will be controlled, in effect, by a small group of unelected people who have vast social networks and a knack for forming viral ideas. (Imagine a Rush Limbaugh talent with no radio show but a lot of Facebook friends.)
The provocative part of The Religion War involves what happens to democracy and freedom when terrorism becomes unstoppable and intolerable. It’s premature to see how well the book predicts that situation, but if terrorists keep trying to build their own drones, we’ll find out the hard way.
Note: If you decide to read The Religion War, make sure you read God’s Debris first. God’s Debris is available on Amazon and also free for download on the Internet. Unlike God’s Debris, The Religion War is written with movie pacing in mind, meaning I left out the filler descriptions of how the leaves are shimmering in the cool morning light. It keeps the book short, and the style is not for everyone.]