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White House response to Death Star petition on We the People website

No Death Star, but a good use of technology anyway

In one way, I was sad to learn that the federal government has no plans to build a Death Star in 2013. But I guess there is always next year. As a reporter covering emerging technology, I could generate a lot of stories about the technology behind the universe’s first Death Star.

The White House’s official response to the Death Star petition on its We the People site offers some pretty good logic for not trying to build one. That includes the fact that the cost of such an endeavor would run $850,000,000,000,000,000 ($850 quadrillion) and that the current administration is not in favor of blowing up planets. Then there is the well-known design flaw that would make it silly to build such a structure when it could be exploited and destroyed by a single-man spacecraft.

The official response goes on to point out several cool real-world programs that are being worked on right now by NASA, including the international space station and many of the robotic projects that we have reported on recently.
 
So there is no Death Star coming, which is probably a good thing, but the whole petition response has called attention to a rather dynamic program the White House started in which anyone can create an online petition, gather enough signatures and get an official response from the White House.

It’s a pretty innovative way to let people get in contact with government,  and a lot of serious questions have been asked and then answered, from taxes and gun control to letting the director of the National Guard sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which actually did happen.

Of course, the downside of the site’s popularity is that it inevitably attracts frivolous ideas, from deporting talk show hosts and college quarterbacks to officially recognizing Sasquatch as an indigenous North American species. The White House had protected itself against engaging in frivolous discussions by requiring that any petition draw 25,000 signatures to merit a response. But after the Death Star made the cut, the threshold was raised to 100,000.

Even so, this is a pretty cool attempt to make government more accessible using technology, even if a few silly ideas make it through. And really, the support for the Death Star petition will probably prove to be the exception among those offbeat ideas rather than the rule. If it encourages more people to participate in government, that’s good, even if we won’t be blowing up planets any time soon.

Posted by John Breeden II on Jan 17, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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