Russia’s next generation of strategic weaponry may be a bit more distant and a bit less fearsome than Vladimir Putin recently claimed. But his March 1 speech about titanic ballistic missiles and nuclear-powered undersea drones should spur American defense and technology communities to move faster — indeed, uncomfortably so — to embrace similarly disruptive ideas such as artificial intelligence and robotics.
As parents well know, the terrible twos are so named for a reason. For authors, publishing date anniversaries — book birthdays – can be equally tricky at the age when a book’s launch buzz is long forgotten and the weight of creative expectations has moved from crawling underfoot to fluid running.
There might be tantrums.
Or cake and candles.
With Ghost Fleet, the summer of 2017 marked the two-year anniversary since the novel’s launch on June 30, 2015. The book’s recent addition to the Commander of US Special Operations Command and the Chief of Staff of the US Army professional reading lists mean the book’s “twos” aren’t terrible at all. It takes time to build an audience, particularly as readers are busier and busier. The hope is that the connection with characters, stories and concepts continues to spread from person to person, organization to organization with increasing urgency and enthusiasm. The book is already on myriad military reading lists, but seeing it still being endorsed as professionally relevant makes a parent proud.
On the Army’s list, Ghost Fleet joined a short list of esteemed fiction titles, including Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield, Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and Virgil’s The Aenid. “Each of us faces busy schedules every day and finding time to read and think is a recurring challenge. But even as we train our units and physically condition our bodies, we must improve our minds through reading and critical thinking,” wrote Gen. Mark Miley, the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army in his preface to the list.
On the concise SOCOM reading list, Ghost Fleet can be found under “Disruptive Technology” alongside 3D Printing Will Rock The World by John Hornick and The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan. It is the sole fiction title.
By next summer, work on the next book will be well underway and I hope there will be time and occasion, once again, to celebrate another Ghost Fleet birthday.
The audience of venture capitalists, engineers and other tech-sector denizens chuckled as they watched a video clip of an engineer using a hockey stick to shove a box away from the Atlas robot that was trying to pick it up. Each time the humanoid robot lumbered forward, its objective moved out of reach. From my vantage point at the back of the room, the audience’s reaction to the situation began to sound uneasy, as if the engineer’s actions and their invention’s response had crossed some imaginary line.
If these tech mavens aren’t sure how to respond to increasingly life-like robots and artificial intelligence systems, I wondered, what are we in the defense community missing?
As podcast titles go, it’s hard to beat The Dead Prussian as a set up for an interview. During a recent trip to Australia, I met up with Mick Cook, an officer in the Australian Army and the podcast’s host. We set up in a Canberra coffee shop and talked Ghost Fleet, the power of narrative and writing, Australia’s military modernization and the 21st Century way of war, and finished with one of the toughest questions I’ve yet encountered — or asked. The podcast is named after the Prussian military officer Carl von Clausewitz who wrote On War.
As Mick puts it on his website: Carl Von Clausewitz and his work On War has had a great influence on the way modern, particularly western, militaries practice war. It is for this reason that this podcast, an exploration of war and warfare, is named The Dead Prussian. This podcast will endeavour to study war and warfare as thoroughly as Clausewitz did.
If Secretary of Defense Ash Carter did a Google search for who would make the biggest splash as the head of the Pentagon’s new innovation panel from Silicon Valley, he couldn’t have gotten a better answer than the executive chairman of the eponymous search engine’s parent company, Eric Schmidt. The move announced at the RSA cyber security confab in San Francisco makes clear to the Beltway the military is serious about closing its innovation gap with the commercial sector by reestablishing ties to the Bay Area’s tech heartland.
Yet if the Defense Department’s innovation scouts get too focused on the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose, they risk missing out on existing or nascent technologies from America’s other innovation hubs.
With one eye on the sentry (literally, one eye), Snake looks for an opening to sneak past the Russian spetsnaz commando. Rather than fight his way into the military outpost in a valley in 1980s Afghanistan, the hero of the video game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain needs to be guided carefully and thoughtfully into and out of trouble. That’s in part because the game requires thinking about keeping the eye patch-wearing character alive throughout each mission while not losing tabs on the burgeoning private military company they run based off of an oil rig complex in the Seychelles.
The faces looking through the chain link fence don’t despair any more. They gave up days ago. That’s why they are in the Hudson Refugee Camp, packed in by the thousands just to be close to what was supposed to be salvation: soldiers, medicine or vaccines, communication links to the rest of America. The truly desperate remain outside, fighting over canned food and fresh ammunition. Even if you want to help the refugees, you can’t. You’re needed elsewhere: on the streets of the catastrophe that is New York to help restore order.
This is Manhattan as seen in the early-play version of Tom Clancy’s The Division, a new video game in the Tom Clancy series that follows a small team of covert operators who have been standing by in the event of a catastrophe so great that the United States teeters toward becoming a failed state. In this case, it is a bio-terrorism attack on Black Friday that ruptures the fragile membrane between order and anarchy.
“The authors in this anthology invite us to shed the shackles that bind us to our current constructs and instead imagine things as they might be, for better or for worse.”
– Martin Dempsey, foreword to War Stories from the Future
So writes Martin Dempsey, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the first science-fiction anthology published by the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project. The endorsement of the stories by the recently retired top military officer in the nation underscores the importance of fiction in understanding a very complex and frequently heartbreaking world.
Along with contest-winning art and fiction from the project’s first year of contests, the free collection features new stories from Ken Liu, Madeline Ashby, Jamie Metzl, Mat Burrows and me.
That’s where ANTFARM comes in. It’s my first new fiction since Ghost Fleet. The short story grew out of my curiosity about what would happen when swarming weapons combine with crowd-sourced intelligence analysis and man-machine symbiosis.
In the past, readers toted a novel to the beach, shaking grains of sand out from between the pages on the commute to work the following Monday. With books on phones and tablets, people can bring fiction with to enjoy even while they might look like they are conducting serious business. Not that fiction isn’t serious. It is, and increasingly so. Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War featured this week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the future of war. Joining the esteemed witnesses for the hearing, chaired by Sen. John McCain, was P.W. Singer, my co-writer. Ghost Fleet is fiction, but it is useful fiction, as the hearing shows. It also must be a first for a novelist to get a chance to showcase their fiction before the SASC.
From autonomous systems to cyber, the assembled experts provided an insightful walk-through of technologies, actors and trends shaping the future of war. To actually “see” what that future might look like, you can crack open the book. Serious indeed.
Watch the hearing featuring P.W. Singer: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/15-11-03-future-of-warfare