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Burn-In: The Book For Our Times

Peter Singer and August Cole have delivered a summer block buster just in time. What better way to begin a locked down June-July-August than with a well researched action adventure that pushes all the right button? Spot on tech, accurate comprehension of the issues presented by AI and robotics, and a whole 390 pages of education, including extensive references.

Whether it’s a Jack Reacher novel or John Le Carre´spy drama, my litmus test of how good a book is, is the time to read. I started Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revloution Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend and finished it Monday.

The book is set in the near future, a generation out. AI and robots have infiltrated American society but nothing too outrageous. Pattern recognition, machine learning, yes. But no Gibsonesque AIs. The predictable nihilist reaction to such advances are at play and politicians take advantage of that to generate fear. There is a benevolent billionaire apparently pulling all the strings, but not annoyingly so. And perhaps not as benevolent as the free-fall imprisoned billionaire in the movie Contact.

Singer and Cole also project forward some of the socio-political aspects of today. Alt-right terrorist cabals. Changes to the FBI and CIA in response to the turmoil of a hacked 2016 US presidential election. And the impact of endorphin pumping social media (Like War). But the glue that holds this book together is an ancient formula: the buddy cop yarn. Only in this case, the pairing is between Lara Keegan, a former Marine turned FBI agent, and her new partner, a robot designated TAMS for Tactical Autonomous Mobility System.

TAMS falls somewhere between the robots you envision Boston Dynamics creating and Data from Star Trek. Not quite personable enough to feel affection for, although you will by the end, and not quite as spooky as the four legged creatures you see in the videos. Singer, author of Wired for War, is the right person to turn to for accurate portrayals of future robots. Cole is quickly losing his academic persona of a futurist of war to that of brilliant fiction author. I wonder just how the collaboration between these two works. Who is the story teller? Who provides the deep tech understanding? How do they meld their voices? Who writes the chilling Lee Child scenes of mayhem?

This is not their first collaboration. The two PhDs wrote Ghost Fleet, also a near future book. It depicted a conflict between China and the US that China won, at least at the outset. Reading a work of fiction with academic citations may be new, but for my tastes there is no need for them, although if you are tempted to Google something you read, at least the citations may prevent you from going down the rabbit hole.

Speaking of terms, the authors used a new one to me: turking, to describe someone engaged in micro-tasks for money. The word is derived from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk that pays participants a few cents for each task completed. Keegan’s husband has annoyingly become addicted to the micro-reward service economy.

I don’t want to give away more of the book. If you, like me, enjoy fast paced, well researched, tech adventure stories, you are going to devour Burn-In.

Source: Forbe Billionaires

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