Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: Burn-In, A Glimpse Into The Future Of Man-Machine Teaming

(Note:  A colleague of mine, Kelly Ivanoff, came to me a few weeks ago with a review--a really well-written review--for the new thriller by Singer and Cole called Burn-In.  I don't have a lot of guest bloggers, but I knew that SAM's audience would be interested in the book, and I told Kelly I would be happy to publish the review.  Over the next couple of weeks, Kelly got me an advance copy of the book, and I have been reading it myself (I knew 12 years of blogging would have to be good for something, someday...).  

So, who is Kelly Ivanoff and what qualifies him to comment on the future of AI, machine learning and robots?  Check this bio out:

Colonel Kelly Ivanoff presently serves at the United States Army War College.  His previous assignment was as the Executive Officer to the Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), the predecessor of today’s Army Futures Command.  He’s a veteran of three combat deployments and has four years of experience specifically working future force-related efforts including concept development and force design.
Boom.  Mic drop.  Let's get to the review...Oh, and none of this is the official position of the Department of Defense or the Army.  It's all just Kelly, me, and our opinions.  Also, I'll add my two cents on the book after you're done reading what Kelly has to say.

By Kelly Ivanoff

The United States Army sees great potential in artificial intelligence and robotics to significantly impact outcomes in future combat operations.  Army General John “Mike” Murray was recently quoted in Breaking Defense, “If you’re talking about future ground combat, you’re not talking tens of thousands of sensors…We’ve got that many in Afghanistan, right now. You’re talking hundreds of thousands if not millions of sensors.” Murray later wondered, “How do you make sense of all that data for human soldiers and commanders?”  His answer:  machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Best-selling authors P.W. Singer and August Cole must have the same convictions as senior Army leaders.  Their new book, Burn-In is a riveting work of fiction, set approximately ten to fifteen years in the future, with real world, present-day implications concerning the great potential of robotics, artificial intelligence, and man-machine teaming.  They offer prophetic examples of how the military might harness and exploit the potential of these evolving technologies to improve situational understanding, “make sense of all that data,” and make better decisions.  Importantly, they vividly describe scenarios that stimulate imagination and allow consideration of challenges similar to those prioritized by General Murray and his team at Army Futures Command.

Burn-In presents the story of FBI agent Laura Keegan, a former United States Marine Corps robot handler, who is tasked to team with a robot partner to test the limits of man-machine teaming; in other words, conduct a ‘burn-in”.  Beginning with a series of controlled experiments and exercises Keegan attempts to better understand the advanced robot she’s been provided; a TAMS (tactical autonomous mobility system).  The tests are designed to explore the robot’s physical agility and its ability to learn and, as a result, improve its own capability.  The tests also challenge Agent Keegan to expand her imagination for the employment of robots and build her trust in artificial intelligence and machine autonomous operations.  The tests are halted due to a series of what seem to be unrelated disasters that inflict great damage and kill thousands of people in the national capital region.  It quickly becomes apparent the disasters were no accident.  In response, Keegan and TAMS embark on a thrilling, action-packed race to identify, locate, and stop a revenge-motivated murderer who caused the destruction.  Through this mentally and environmentally stressful period Agent Keegan overcomes her biases and comes to embrace man-machine teaming and the use of artificial intelligence in problem solving and decision making.  Ultimately, through their portrayal of this fictional story, Singer and Cole reveal numerous real-world opportunities and challenges surely inherent in our near future.  

Burn-In is much more than just a riveting story.  Singer and Cole creatively advance important concepts about the use of robotics and artificial intelligence in defense and security-related professions.  Much can be learned from their work.  Burn-In brilliantly describes example scenarios pertaining to three of the four “initial thrusts” of the Army’s newly established Artificial Intelligence Task Force; those three being Intelligence Support, Automated Threat Recognition, and Predictive Maintenance (the fourth being Human Resources / Talent Management).  The authors also provide examples related to all of the additional Areas of Interest identified in a recent call for whitepapers issued by the Army Artificial Intelligence Task Force.  Burn-In is important for the vividly described problem-centered scenarios and the conceptual solutions offered.  

Burn-In is an exceptional read and it should be a centerpiece in the library of aspiring senior military leaders, defense officials, and those involved in military modernization efforts.  Its value lies in its description of the world as it will be.  Just as the scientist and author Isaac Asimov once argued, “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today.  No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be”.  For this reason military leaders and those engaged in the development of military technologies and operational doctrines should read this book.  It will stimulate ideas about the future operational environment and offer conceptual solutions to the inherent challenges.  Beyond the aforementioned professional reasons, read Burn-In for the sheer enjoyment of a well told story.  It will not disappoint.    

My two cents:  I like the book, too!  It reminds me of some the early work by Tom Clancy or Ralph Peters (my favorites!), and I suspect it will have that same kind of effect on military and government professionals that read it.