Peter W. Singer On Why His ‘Robot Revolution’ Is Inevitable
His sci-fi novel about WWIII got him invited to the White House. He thinks his next one, about A.I., will do more than that.
Why I Made This Future is a recurring feature that invites speculative fiction authors, futurists, screenwriters, and so on to discuss how and why they built their fictional future worlds.
Peter W. Singer is a well-known political scientist who examines trends in international relations, technology, and warfare for beltway think tanks like the Brookings Institute and the New America Foundation. He has written a number of influential nonfiction tracts, like Wired for War, which explored the rise of autonomous weapons. But the work that has had the most lasting impact on U.S. foreign policy, he says, was his Tom Clancy-styled spy novel.
In 2015, Singer published Ghost Fleet, a researched speculative fiction book about the coming of World War III, with co-author August Cole. It was both authors’ debut novel, and it struck a chord. “I got invited to brief it everywhere from the White House to the tank inside the joint chief staff meeting room in the Pentagon,” Singer tells me. “To groups like JSOC and NSA. My co-author August got invited to speak on it at the Nobel institution. The Navy even named a $3.6 billion ship program Ghost Fleet.”
The book was such a sensation in the defense community that the authors were inspired to systematize their process of fusing nonfiction research about technologic, economic, and social trends to fictional plotlines — they call it FICINT. And they’re hoping the next book, Burn-In: A Novel of the Real Robot Revolution, out May 26, will do for the threat posed by automation and A.I. what Ghost Fleet did for the next world war. This book is even more methodically based on real-world research and events — Singer says they approached it as if it were nonfiction, and read 1,200 reports about automation — and portends a future marked by technological unemployment, rampant consumer and state use of augmented reality, and law enforcement’s total embrace of digital surveillance and facial recognition.