Burn-In by P.W. Singer and August Cole

Singer and Cole have written a prototypical Future Fiction novel. Burn-In is the story of a former Marine robot wrangler, Lara Keegan, who retires to the FBI, only to screw up and be noticed. Using her powers of observation to catch a would-be terrorist, she is seen as the perfect partner for an AI powered robotic partner, TAMS.

Burn-In refers to the period of time it takes for a new system to work through the bugs to become acceptably reliable. That is Keegan’s mission – to burn-in TAMS. Prove out the system or identify why it’s not ready for prime time.

Pulling Keegan in different directions is her lawyer husband who now works from home on virtual companion jobs having lost his legal position to robotic systems. He is a Luddite robot hater from the first moment of his new life. Keegan also has a young daughter who sees TAMS as the perfect playmate.

The robot quickly establishes a high level of usefulness, searching public and FBI databases to answer Keegan’s questions as they investigate domestic terrorists. All the while she is trying to understand conflicting signals she is getting about the bureau’s real interest in giving TAMS a shot at proving its worth. As they work together Keegan unleashes increasingly useful capabilities of the robot, which are captured on more than one cell phone camera, establishing them as the newest sensation.

Still, Keegan and TAMS must overcome the many who do not wish to see them succeed either as a team or in their ability to solve the puzzle of who is really behind a wave of domestic terrorism.

What makes Burn-In different than most fiction is the twenty-seven pages of notes tying technologies and incidents of the story to reality as we know it, but don’t see. Singer and Cole have humanized the future by contextualizing documented present trends and developments that will make tomorrow much different than today.