A near-future SF thriller starring an FBI agent and one damn smart robot.
Turmoil threatens the United States due to the “collision between an evolutionary species and a revolutionary technology.” Nearly a million aggrieved vets march on Washington, D.C., and set up a digital blockade against the police. Then the FBI assigns Special Agent Lara Keegan to a robot called a Tactical Autonomous Mobility System to perform a “burn-in,” a field test under real-life situations. TAMS is a highly intelligent “learning system” whose job is to help Keegan. Her job is to teach the bot human interaction skills through daily experience. By now, bots are so common that many in society are fearful. “It is not human jobs that are at risk from the rise of the robots,” says a man nicknamed Moses. “It is humanity itself.” But the FBI sees TAMS as always subordinate to the human—“man before machine,” says Keegan’s boss. “Woman,” she replies. Keegan and TAMS work together brilliantly, although her husband warns that the bot will learn more than she wants it to. “One massive sensor,” TAMS is a quick study, whether assessing a crowd threat, picking up on Keegan’s emotions, even playing Sesame Street songs for her young daughter, Haley. Yet it’s “not just some servile knee-high domo,” but “a machine with a mission.” In some ways this is a typical thriller with a tsunami on the Potomac River and other twists of fortune that eventually land the good guys just where they should land. There are lots of clever details, like vizglasses that transmit what people see to a computer, “frozen synth shrimp from Tennessee,” and “freegans…living off a dying society’s leftovers.” With the success of this bot, many copies will follow, all learning quickly, all subordinate to their humans.
The FBI’s bots are a great premise for a series. Just keep those suckers away from Putin.
Burn-In is a fantastic, compelling, and authoritative look into the future—a future that is equal parts amazing and terrifying. With Burn-In, Peter Singer and August Cole establish themselves both as masters of the techno-thriller and as scientifically grounded futurists. Woven into their riveting, page-turning tale of a brilliant FBI agent’s future hunt for a diabolically clever, tech-savvy criminal are important lessons about the extremely difficult issues that lie ahead surrounding the use of AI, robotics, augmented reality, and ubiquitous surveillance. It is a terrific read!” —General David Petraeus (USA, Ret.), former commander of the Surge in Iraq, US Central Command, and coalition forces in Afghanistan and former director of the CIA “Whether it’s a Jack Reacher novel or John Le Carré spy drama, my litmus test of how good a book is, is the time to read. I started Burn-In Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend and finished it Monday . . . If you, like me, enjoy fast-paced, well-researched, tech-adventure stories, you are going to devour Burn-In.”—Forbes “Burn-In will do more for defense experts’ understanding of this brave new world with literature than a thousand nonfiction assessments would have.”—War on The Rocks “For think-tankers and military and civilian officials, Burn-In offers a buffet of challenging questions and troubling future quandaries; for those who seek a good story, it has it all: robot sidekicks, bearded military veterans gone rogue, and a technological showdown of biblical proportions set in the nation’s capital.”—Military.com “The book, like the other noteworthy novel the two collaborated on, Ghost Fleet, meets its purpose skillfully. It is both lively, entertaining, and well-written as well as thought-provoking . . . [It] should be essential reading for anyone who looks out at the landscape today and sees clouds looming over the horizon.”—CIMSEC “[As] timely and compelling as it is entertaining, Burn-In raises important issues and will provoke the necessary conversations that must happen about humanity and the future we want as we embrace technology at an ever-accelerating pace.”—The Cipher Brief “It’s a story of human-machine teaming, but like a buddy cop movie . . . It’s a glimpse into the future.”—Defense One “That fascinating place where things have a real chance of becoming real . . . This book is very much like a nerd’s dream. It’s fantastic. I love the concept.”—State Secrets “It’s a very interesting book . . . It’s a future shock novel like Greg Bear’s Slant, where things are happening faster and faster. But it’s also a military thriller. I compare it to Tom Clancy.”—Podside Picnic “A visionary new form of storytelling—a rollercoaster ride of science fiction blended with science fact.”—Damon Lindelof, writer/creator of Lost,Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Watchmen “Burn-In is a white-knuckle adventure into our maximum-probability future. I found surprises on every page, with each startlingly real depiction of new technology and its human impact. This near-future was crafted by experts, and it shows.”—Daniel H. Wilson, New York Times best-selling author of Robopocalypse “Their seamless blend of detailed research and rapid-fire storytelling makes Singer and Cole the perfect tour guides for our world’s future conflicts.”—Max Brooks, New York Times best-selling author of World War Z and Devolution “I’ve never had such an enjoyable discomfort in reading a book before . . . because Burn-In is fiction, but for how long?”—Foreign Policy “Burn-In is a thought-provoking and philosophical summer blockbuster; it is Michael Bay meets Stephen Hawking, and it is fantastic.” —Diplomatic Courier “With their latest work, the authors energetically carry on the tradition of this genre’s giants, including Isaac Asimov (I, Robot) and Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers), to name a few . . . Singer and Cole clearly understand how to make the unintelligible understandable, and in Burn-In they deliver the best of contemporary science fiction. Defense professionals, policy makers, and American citizens alike would do well to pick up a copy.”—Strategic Studies Quarterly “Captivating and oftentimes brilliant . . . something that Asimov would have immediately recognized and approved . . . the perfect blend of science fiction and human drama.”—Steve Leonard, senior fellow, Modern War Institute at West Point “It is hard for fiction to keep up with reality these days, but it can help us visualize the potential futures ahead of us in a meaningful way that nonfiction cannot. Burn-In brilliantly uses near-future technology to ponder pressing matters of tech, politics, and the human relationship with our increasingly intelligent machines. Read it and you’ll not only be entertained, but better able to understand the flood of AI headlines without fear or fantasy. Burn-In is the rare techno-thriller that takes tech seriously!”—Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, author of Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins “A compulsively readable story that also brilliantly explains how our near-future world will look and work. Singer and Cole have woven a gripping detective yarn about a hunt for the terrorists of tomorrow, using the best research from the brightest minds of today.”—Peter Bergen, New York Times best-selling author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad “Timely, prescient, and meticulously researched, Burn-In tells a deeply humane and nuanced story about our changing relationship with AI and warns of dangers to our free society all too few have started to grapple with. This is the near-future thriller you’ve been looking for: a captivating story filled with moving characters as well as profound insights.”—Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings and The Hidden Girl and Other Stories “Wrapped in this propulsive thriller is a fascinating analysis of our possible near-future, where promises of a techno-utopia veer into surveillance-state nightmare. Cole and Singer brilliantly and terrifyingly imagine a realistic intersection of terrorism, technology, and policing.”—Phil Klay, National Book Award–winning author of Redeployment “[A] perceptive and exciting near-future thriller . . . drawing on plentiful research (and heavily footnoted), the novel is strikingly well constructed. The authors are aiming for maximum believability, and they succeed: this story feels really feels like it could happen. Its characters are genuinely full-bodied and readers will totally buy into [this world].”—Booklist “This perceptive near-future techno-thriller from Singer and Cole (Ghost Fleet) warns of the unintended consequences of rapid technological change . . . For all the emphasis on high-tech fears, the authors tell a very human story.”—Publishers Weekly “A near-future SF thriller starring an FBI agent and one damn smart robot . . . lots of clever details . . . a great premise for a series . . . Just keep those suckers away from Putin.”—Kirkus Reviews “August Cole and Peter Singer have done it again, with a searing look at the intersection of advanced technology, brutal domestic politics, and an utterly uncertain geopolitical future. This is a book that charts perfectly the dangerous course into which we sail—and, similar to medieval sailing charts, on the distant margins it says clearly: ‘there be monsters here.’ Buckle up for Burn-In.”—Admiral James Stavridis (USN, ret.), former supreme allied commander of NATO “Burn-In will wake you up and shake you up. Just as they did in Ghost Fleet, Singer and Cole give us a vivid look ahead into the near-future. Like the best science fiction, Burn-In is a human story, with great characters and a terrific plot that unfolds in a ‘just-beyond-tomorrow’ world of emerging technology. I whipped through the book, mesmerized by its glimpse into a future where intelligence—human, augmented, and artificial—all blend together in a continuous battle to understand what’s the real truth. So much to think about after reading it!”—Admiral John Richardson (USN, ret.), former chief of naval operations “Don’t miss Burn-In! Singer and Cole have combined their expert knowledge of imminent technologies to create a riveting day-after-tomorrow thriller exploring our increasingly uneasy alliance with smart machines and the networked world that enables them. Burn-In captures the imagination, even as it takes a hard look at the challenges ahead.”—Linda Nagata, author of the Red trilogy and The Last Good Man “I loved Burn-In so much that I’ve already read it twice. This suspenseful, forward-looking novel prophesizes titanic disruptions soon to come from the marriage of humanity and technology. Most of all, it provides a clear-eyed view of both the highs and lows of humanity's rapid plunge into a world of AI, robotics, and other advanced tech, and the impact that will have on families, society, politics, and security. Singer and Cole project the logical outcomes of today’s rapidly evolving technological revolution in ways that make Burn-In both heartening and terrifying—sometimes at the same time. This book will definitely make you think.”—Lt. General Edward Cardon (USA, ret.), former commander, US Army Cyber Command “Singer and Cole have done it again. Exciting, interesting, and disturbing, Burn-In shows how the inevitable evolution of AI and intelligent machines can and will change our world. There will be both good and bad in this onrushing future, and our entire society—not just our political leaders—will need to understand and confront it. So enjoy this great read, but at the same time consider its implications both for our daily lives and our humanity.”—General Robert Neller (USMC, ret.), 37th commandant of the US Marine Corps “Another winner from Singer and Cole. Burn-In is a great story and a well-written mystery/adventure novel, but most importantly it provides a view of the world in which we will soon be living, where data, networks, remote sensing, autonomy, robotics, and AI are totally integrated into every aspect of our day-to-day lives. It explores that nexus between people and technology—our greatest challenge in living in this new world—and makes you stop and think, even as you become immersed in a great book.”—Admiral Michael S. Rogers (ret), Former Commander, U.S. Cyber Command; Former Director, National Security Agency “Through the eyes of its heroine, Agent Lara Keegan, Burn-In is a page-turning story that challenges us to consider the social and societal implications of the game-changing AI technologies that are just over the horizon, and how we as people relate to our mechanical creations. Authors Singer and Cole have once again brought the future into our present, bringing us the book we need to start wrapping our minds around the issues that will dominate our near future.”—Kathleen J. McInnis, author of The Heart of War: Misadventures in the Pentagon “The only thing America has to fear is America itself. Cole and Singer are among the few willing to engage with the futuristic storytelling potential afforded by contemporary reality.”—Madeline Ashby, author of Company Town and coauthor of How to Future “Burn-In is a high octane (and carefully researched!) exploration of what could happen if America loses its edge at the forefront of the AI revolution.”—Jamie Metzl, futurist and best-selling author of Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity “A speculative work about a dark tomorrow, Burn-In brims with the vibrancy of real, layered human conflict. P. W. Singer and August Cole understand that stories of moral tribulation transcend space and time, and imbue this bold, splendid story with it. There’s more life and imagination in this novel about the robot future than most books of today will ever manage.”—Matt Gallagher, author of Empire City and Youngblood “Burn-In is a profound look into an all-too-believable future, brilliantly weaving together a moving narrative that challenges readers with its mix of robots, AI, and politics. The action is stirring, the characters are all too relatable, but it’s the questions about humanity that wll leave their mark, burning their way into your brain and leaving you breathlessly wanting more.”—Peter Tieryas, author of Mecha Samurai Empire “Meet Agent Lara Keegan, a new kind of hero who captures your attention in a thriller you won’t want to put down.”—Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author of New York Times bestsellers The Dressmaker of Khair Khana and Ashley’s War