'2054' Is a Novel of the New Atomic Bomb and the Next American Civil War

"2054" by Elliot Ackerman and Adm. James Stavridis is on bookshelves now.

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The year is 2054. The United States is recovering from a destructive war with China. When the otherwise healthy president of the United States suddenly dies of a heart attack, the American people begin to question what's real. They start to demand answers -- and are willing to fight each other to make sure the real truth is known.

This is the background to Marine Corps veteran Elliot Ackerman's ("Green on Blue") and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis' new book, "2054." It's the second in what will be a trilogy about the most important geopolitical issues faced by the world today, written in a compelling narrative that brings home the very real consequences of these global events.

"For each of these books, there have been the mountaintops we're driving to, but then you have what is a multi-generational character arc," Ackerman said. "These stories are about all these high-level concepts. But fundamentally when you're reading the book, our hope is that you're reading about characters you care about."

Author Elliot Ackerman is a Marine Corps veteran and Silver Star recipient. (Courtesy of Elliot Ackerman)

Their well-developed characters, ones the authors say reflect a bit of each of us, are the firm base for the authors' geopolitical "mountaintops." In the first book, "2034," the authors detail the possibilities surrounding a potential Third World War, one sparked by China's expansionist aggression in the Pacific. This time around, their focus is on how emerging technology could lead the United States into a new civil war.

"We thought all along this was going to be focused on AI," Stavridis told Military.com. "Then, events here in the United States added the piece of it that became civil conflict, ... because that's something we ought to be concerned about mid-century, I would say."

But the technology discussed in "2054" goes far beyond artificial intelligence. It also discusses the effects of remote gene editing, quantum computing and another, more troubling advancement: the Singularity.

Described in the 2005 book "The Singularity Is Near," by futurist Ray Kurzweil (a central figure in "2054"), the Singularity is a theoretical (but very real possibility) point in human history where technological development grows uncontrollably, leaving the future of humanity uncertain. Not only will machine intelligence outpace human intelligence, but the Singularity will lead to a merger between the two.

In "2054," the authors liken the pursuit of the Singularity to the race for the atomic bomb during World War II.

"We are all waking up Americans, as humans, that we're at the dawn of a new age," Stavridis said. "One of the things I would point to in the culture is the fact that 'Oppenheimer' just won Best Picture, because that is a film about America at the dawn of the nuclear age, and we know we're at the dawning of this age of artificial intelligence. There are going to be contests that we see between nations as to who can outpace the other one in this new technological competition."

In "2054," that competition includes the United States, which is rebuilding after a nuclear exchange with its main rival, China. It also includes emerging powers such as Nigeria, India and Brazil. When Americans learn the president of the United States was likely assassinated, they begin to question everything about their government, including who is its legitimate leader. The problem is not only compounded by AI, but also wild theories about other advanced technologies. The country splits into two factions, "Truthers" and "Dreamers."

"It's a commentary on how these technologies affect our sense of reality and what it means to live in a democratic society where there is not, broadly speaking, a shared sense of what's real," Ackerman said. "it's very difficult for a democratic society to function under those conditions."

"Watch the political party structure. By mid-century, Republican and Democratic parties are gone," Stavridis said. "Our hypothesis is that the rump elements of the Republican and Democratic parties actually come together, and that is who become the Truthers. In the middle, you have the Dreamers, and so it's a reshuffling of political parties, which I think is a very real possibility when you look at the dissatisfaction, the schism and the inability to work together to solve things."

Adm. James Stavridis, then-Supreme Allied Commander Europe, visiting Greece in 2009. (U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class TaWanna Starks)

So what should U.S. troops do if this kind of schism forces them to take sides?

"The thing that is never spoken about is although the U.S. military is, on its surface, an apolitical organization, that doesn't mean that people who wear the uniform don't have their political beliefs, as they should, but there's a culture in the military of 'Omerta' [a code of silence]. It's not something we talk about; it's something we share. We all just serve the flag that's on our left shoulder," Ackerman said.

"In our actual Civil War, people were forced to choose, and if you read the contemporaneous account, it was a horrible choice for people on both sides, a choice nobody wanted to make. The one thing that really rang true to me is that none of the people in uniform are going to be gleeful about the decision they're going to make."

"I just think it's so real and you pray that the nation never has to face those choices," Stavridis added. "What I really love about '2054' is that the military is not the bad guy. The military are the people who have to deal with this division in the country. In my view, it's something that anybody in the military could identify with very deeply. I know I do."

"2054" by Elliot Ackerman and Adm. James Stavridis is in bookstores now. You can catch up with the ongoing saga by first reading "2034." A third book, "2084," is in the works.

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