A future where artificial intelligence controls Washington D.C. may not be far off, according to a new book from Peter Singer and August Cole: “Burn-In, a Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution.”
Like the authors’ previous book, “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War,” “Burn-In” is a blend of fiction and facts that explore how technology will shape the future. The science fiction thriller showcases over 300 technological trends that the authors believe will push the United States into a new industrial revolution. The story revolves around an FBI agent and its robot partner working to stop a cyber-terrorist who has taken control over the nation’s capital.
Singer, a strategist and senior fellow at the non-partisan think tank New America, spoke with Chiara Vercellone about what inspired the book, the response from officials and how the duo researched it.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
C4ISRNET: This novel blends fictional characters with extensive research on what technology might be like in the future. You show how AI might have an effect on everything, from politics and economy to our society. Why is this realistic in such a short amount of time?
SINGER: We conducted research on everything from compiling the reports on which jobs will be automated, to Amazon patent applications, to interviews with AI scientists, but also people who worked on the water system of Washington D.C. We even did site visits to inside the White House.
We used that to essentially project forward not just how AI and robotics are going to be used in your city, your business and your home, but also some of the, frankly, scary new vulnerabilities and trends that they are going to introduce. What are some of the security threats that we’re going to be wrestling with, whether it’s in your home or how you think about it for an entire city?
C4ISRNET: The book is set 20 years from now. Is that the right time frame for the development of all encompassing AI?
SINGER: We had a “no vaporware” rule. Every single technology, every single trend, every single scene in the book had to be pulled from a technology project that is already in motion right now: A technology that already exists or a research project that is already happening, a cyberattack that may not have happened in the U.S. but has happened somewhere else, or has been something that researchers have proved is possible. And, honestly, that kind of grounding, frankly, makes it even more compelling and scarier.
C4ISRNET: As artificial intelligence can be used for good to help defend against cyberattacks, it can also be used to carry out these attacks. As the book shows, the FBI uses AI to solve cases more efficiently but D.C. has been taken hostage by a cyberterrorist using the same technology. Are there any risks that officials are taking today in funding the development of this technology?