In This Review

Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution
Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robotic Revolution
By P. W. Singer and August Cole
432 pp, Houghton Mifflin, 2020

Singer and Cole write what they like to call “useful fiction.” Burn-In highlights both the logistical and the moral issues raised by new technologies. As did its predecessor, Ghost Fleet, which concerned a future war with China, this novel comes with a full set of endnotes to show that it is not purely a work of the imagination. The plot takes place in a dystopian United States in which unconstrained automation has led to mass unemployment and a restive public. As a conspiracy of neo-Luddite villains, each with his or her own agenda, tries to inflame and exploit the unrest, the FBI agent Lara Keegan seeks to limit the damage and find the culprits. She enjoys the assistance of a robot, whose effectiveness and value she must assess. It learns on the job, constantly accessing and interpreting vast amounts of information. The novel is fast moving and readable, and it explores important questions about whether and how humanity can benefit from intelligent machines without being overwhelmed by them.