Burn-In: Welcome To Keegan’s World

Just like that the future is here… Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution is out today in print, e-book, and audio (which is a superb narration).

This year marks a decade since I left a career in journalism writing about the defense industry and other national security stories for The Wall Street Journal. Since then I have appreciated that the things we don’t do are as important as those we wholly commit ourselves to. This book is proof. And when we do push toward a seemingly far-off goal, especially a creative one, it is only possible with allies, friends, and family joining us. The difficulties faced along the way have been internal and external, the trade-offs real. But in a moment like this it all seems worth it, not just to have another title on a shelf but to earn a shot at changing how people understand their present and future lives through narrative.

What Burn-In’s Lara Keegan and TAMS have to offer us is a window into our relationships with technology and our future as humans in a world being reshaped by AI and robotics.

Buckle up and enjoy the book. If you can, please take a moment to give it a star rating at Amazon, Goodreads, etc. as it builds awareness and momentum. Algorithms, you know… we are already living in Keegan’s world.

Order here.

BURN-IN Cover

 

The Fighting FAANG

Just as AI and robotics will transform warfare, these technologies will lead to profound changes in the defense industrial base. What might it look like, and what might it be called? How about the strategic innovation base?

Check out my new piece in DefenseOne with SparkCognition colleague Amir Husain:

Look across the Potomac River toward Rosslyn, where the corporate logos of government contractors crown a parade of office towers that follows the river past the Pentagon. The skyline, like America’s defense industrial landscape, is changing. Soon, 25,000 Amazon employees will be climbing the Metro escalators to work in Crystal City each morning along with the tens of thousands of workers from military, intelligence, and the defense industry organizations.

The arrival of Amazon’s HQ2 in the cradle of U.S. government contracting comes at a portentous time for the Defense Department. Technology is altering what makes us strong, prosperous, and secure. The defense industrial base is becoming the strategic innovation base. Today’s leading digital companies have disrupted every industry they have touched, from publishing to automotive. Could Amazon and the rest of the “FAANG companies”—Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google—or one of a handful of pure-play artificial-intelligence companies, such as the authors’ SparkCognition, become fixtures of this new industrial base?

Read the essay at Defense One.

Angry Trident

Right now NATO is in the midst of Trident Juncture, its largest military exercise in Norway since the Cold War. This is an exercise for a new era of warfare, featuring battlefield 3-D printing, tactical cyber ops, and remotely operated armed ground vehicles, among other technologies that have emerged in the decades since Tom Clancy and Larry Bond wrote RED STORM RISING.

But what if this was not an exercise, and Norway was indeed under threat from a dynamic and unconventional Russian incursion designed to redraw the borders on NATO’s northern flank?

Based on a trip to Norway last fall, including visiting the strategically vital Arctic region bordering Russia, I wrote a future-war short story in the spirit of GHOST FLEET, ANGRY TRIDENT, that imagines such a scenario…

Read ANGRY TRIDENT at the Atlantic Council’s NATO Source blog.

RUSSIA-NORWAY BORDER

Small mountains of bicycles marked the Norwegian-Russian border at the Storskog crossing, piled high like shimmering haystacks in the November moonlight. Alongside them on the Russian side were cars and buses dusted with days of dirty snow, abandoned by refugees pressing toward safety without a backward glance. Norwegian police and Border Guards watched warily as the tens of thousands of people flowed into the Norwegian town of Kirkenes . The canvas tents at the airport reached capacity 12 hours ago, so the refugees carefully sought out the nooks and alleys amidst the Arctic town’s traditional brightly painted homes and bland modern buildings. The crowd’s panic dissipated in the cold and dark, replaced by resolve to not only escape but to stay away, perhaps forever.

The coffee was cold and bitter, as if brewed right out of the barren Arctic plain’s dirt and rock. US Marine Corps Sergeant Sylvia Hammer drank it out of a tiny black plastic cup that she balanced between sips on the rangefinder in front of her. She studied the refugees, moving with a river’s unstoppable energy between the rolling hills. They moved with steady urgency and few belongings, all on foot or on bicycles now, as they pushed through the dark along the Russian E105 road to its terminus where land and fjord met in Norway.

“You take your pills?” said Hammer.

“Think we are going to get sick?” said Harald Solberg, a corporal in the Norwegian Border Guard who was four months in to his six-month rotation at the nearby Sør-Varanger Garrison.

“Yes,” said Hammer.

Read the full story at the Atlantic Council’s NATO Source blog.

Short Stories, Long Conversations

On the latest US Naval Institute podcast, I had a great time discussing my latest short story, AUTOMATED VALOR, with Proceedings Editor-in-Chief Bill Hamblet and Director of Outreach Ward Carroll. Set in the 2030s, the story follows British forces in an urban fight in Djibouti and asks fundamental questions about the essence of leadership in the era of artificial intelligence. The podcast also covered my motivations as a writer, how to establish a credible narrative in future worlds, my journalistic background, disruptive civilian and defense technologies, and more.

Listen to the US Naval Institute Proceedings podcast episode 35.

Automated Valor

“Move, move, move!” she shouted. The closer the threat, the more her harness tightened, shielding her behind the combat couch’s blast-resistant wings. It felt as if somebody were hammering her coffin lid down while she was paralyzed but still alive. This particular fear was a well-worn track for the 24-year-old private. To suppress the panic, she angrily gloved a salvo of 30 thumb-sized diverters skyward. She quickly followed them with a pair of four-inch pulse-mortar rounds. Those would float gently down on parachutes, shorting out anything electronic within a five-meter radius until they exhausted their batteries. Her haptic suit pinched her to let her know it was overkill for the incoming threat, but it still felt right. She could answer for it when she wasn’t as worried about dying—whenever that day might come.

 

Read the full story at the US Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine.

Bots, AI: Break With Convention

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.

Read more of my op-ed with Spark Cognition CEO Amir Husain at Defense One.

Sci-Fi And The Military Reader

The view that fiction belongs on modern military reading lists is becoming mainstream. One only need look at the titles on the reading lists put out by US Special Operations Command or the senior officers of the Navy and Marine Corps to see that it has a valued place in military professional development. And this is not limited to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Fiction, and specifically science fiction and future-war fiction, is going mainstream in Western militaries.

Read the full article at RUSI Journal.

Lifting The Lid On Military AI

Among all the voices to consider in the debate over what role lethal autonomous capabilities should play in military and security systems, the very people who dream up and create science-fiction realities are the clearest in articulating the risks of robots run amok or even more devastating human-created technological disasters. The latest letter from 116 senior robotics and AI leaders cautions against the use of artificial intelligence in the defense domain, arguing humanity is at a point of no return. “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close,” they wrote.

The problem is, however, that this is an era when civilian technology innovation outstrips what is conjured up in government labs. The global “AI” revolution is already underway and its impact will certainly shape future conflict. Don’t expect a Terminator reboot. Pandora’s box then may be the last one to be opened, as Facebook, Google, Baidu, Alibaba, Uber and scores of other companies have already lifted the lids on what is possible with learning machine software and robotics because there is generational society-changing and economic potential on the line. So much so that the US wants to block Chinese investment in certain cases in related technologies. As I told RealClear Defense

August Cole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and writer at the consulting firm Avascent, said the concerns raised by tech leaders on autonomous weapons are valid, but a ban is unrealistic. “Given the proliferation of civilian machine learning and autonomy advances in everything from cars to finance to social media, a prohibition won’t work,” he said.

Setting limits on technology ultimately would hurt the military, which depends on commercial innovations, said Cole. “What needs to develop is an international legal, moral and ethical framework. … But given the unrelenting speed of commercial breakthroughs in AI, robotics and machine learning, this may be a taller order than asking for an outright ban on autonomous weapons.”

Read the full story by Sandra Erwin.

A Matter For Machines

Executive orders from the White House so far appear to be the readiest arrow in the Trump administration’s quiver for hot-button, high-stakes political issues like Middle East refugees and cutting federal red tape. Fired recklessly and without counsel or apparent expert advice they are sure to sow chaos and discord, likely by design. What will happen when the administration’s missives start to address the outstanding military and strategic questions about game-changing battlefield advances like AI and robotics? It is worth re-reading the Politico story from late December, “Killer Robots Await Trump’s Verdict” that tackled this question before the tumult of Inauguration Day and the reshuffling of the National Security Council that favors politicking over military and intelligence acumen (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Director of National Intelligence are no longer deemed essential to meetings of top officials during a crisis but top political advisors are.) Read the Politico story.

As I said in the story, “We’re on the doorstep of what armed conflict looks like in the 21st century” and robotics and autonomy are going to play decisive roles in the air, on the ground, under the sea and in cyberspace. What that role is depends in large part on the initiatives of the Trump administration — or how they respond to other nations and groups who use these capabilities first.

During a recent podcast with Army Capt. Jake Miraldi of West Point’s Modern War Institute about future conflict, we got into a range of future-conflict questions from who will lead innovation around AI/autonomy, what will we do with bad advice from machines, will technology disruption shock the US military, and whether an algorithm might one day be writing my novels for me (and doing a better job…). Listen to the MWI podcast “Autonomy on the Battlefield.”

Really Big Risks

As the Trump administration gets down to work making its mark on the first 100 days in office, its members would be wise to remember that the next national security risks are so new they’re almost impossible to comprehend, let alone see.

This is where science fiction comes in. The right novel or short story can bring existential threats down to Earth, and make them seem solvable with the right recipe of science, heroes, and villains.

Read more at the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project.