Burn-In is a masterful work of fiction that forecasts the potential challenges ahead of us as we accelerate into a new era defined by the complexity of adapting social and political life to emerging technologies. P.W. Singer and August Cole have written a highly accessible book for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with technological advances in surveillance and security, and how they may map onto fissures in American domestic politics and national security.
The general arc of the storyline follows FBI Special Agent Lara Keegan as she navigates her work tracking down terrorists. Along the way, Keegan field tests a police robot and readers follow along as she learns how to best utilize and engage with a Tactical Autonomous Mobility System (TAMS), an AI enhanced humanoid robot. Together, Keegan and TAMS provide a glimpse of what the next era of law enforcement may look like and bring readers on an action-packed adventure that highlights the limits and potential of our technological advances. Through Keegan’s eyes, we see how both data and physical strength are merged in TAMS, and watch as she provides continual contextual information to help TAMS understand the parameters for any particular decision space and to enable TAMS with stronger analytic decision-making skills.
Watch Burn-In Video Trailer Below
The technology profiled and threaded throughout shows us how the basic contour of daily life and casual interpersonal interactions may change in the near future as a result of these advances, and also how technology may be mobilized and monetized by public and private sector actors. Notably, most of the technology in the book is either already here (and just not yet widely dispersed) or is in development. The policy issues such developments raise are not privacy and security alone, but are instead wide-sweeping as people increase their reliance on automated data for decision-making across new arenas.
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P.W. Singer graciously had his publisher establish a special discount of 35% for CA Association members to purchase the book: https://800ceoread.com/coupons/redeem/civilaffairs
This book shines a bright warning light on the probable direction our society is headed and pushes us to examine the policy questions that may define such a future. Without robust conversations about how these technologies impede as much as facilitate a vibrant public life, we are likely to step haphazardly into a future that carries high stakes for core American values. It is a must read for laypersons and policy makers alike. Similarly, national security practitioners and stakeholders should also take heed of Burn-In as an essential and increasingly self-realizing facsimile of the world. In the absence of open policy debate about emerging technologies, democratic countries will likely suffer greatly from the first move advantage exploited by authoritarian regimes.
About the Author
Doowan Lee is the senior director of research and strategy at Zignal Labs, a leading AI company on digital media analytics. He was a professor and principal investigator at the Naval Postgraduate School where he extensively supported the SOF community with network analytics and special warfare education.