The beauty with fiction is how often it provides a glimpse of how the future will actually look like, give or take a few details. Good science fiction, in particular, is not the product of idle imagination, but of hours upon hours of serious research and contemplation. Mark Greaney series has successfully done that for the past 20-something books, including his masterpiece, The Gray Man series. What does the future hold for this iconic piece of work? In this episode, Mark shares how he’s finally taking a deep dive into the world of AI – a significant departure from the usual themes of his past The Gray Man books. AI is developing very rapidly today, and perhaps very fittingly, there is a lot of gray area to explore in this fast-advancing field. Tune in and learn what one of the world’s most prolific fiction writers of our generation has to say about it!

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The Future Of The Gray Man – A Conversation With Mark Greaney

As always, I have an interesting and awesome guest for you. We have Mark Greaney, who is the writer of the Gray Man series of novels, and he is coming out with a new book that’s all about applications, artificial intelligence, and some interesting concepts that I think are near-future science fiction. I’m excited to talk to him about what he thinks the future holds for all of us. Welcome, Mark. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the new book that you are coming out with.

I think everybody’s familiar with this genre, especially the fact that you’ve written twenty books in the Gray Man series, but we’d love to know who you are, where you get your inspiration from, and also, why you decided to change tactics a little bit and talk about this technology that I think is on everybody’s mind. Go ahead and let us know where you’re coming from and where your mind was when you wrote this book.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s very true. This is a different type of book for me. When you write thrillers, political, military, and espionage thrillers, there’s a finite list of typical geopolitical foes that America’s up against or your hero’s up against. That gets tiring after. As you said, twenty books, but this is my 24th published novel. You don’t want to keep going back to North Korea as the bad guy every time. It gets a little silly.

Ethics And The AI Arms Race

I’ve been fascinated with artificial intelligence, these private AI labs, the nexus between them, the military, and the potential for weaponization of that. I started doing research for a book. This is the thirteenth Gray Man book. I have it down that I do my research for about six months while I’m writing, and then I finish writing. As I was doing the research, I became fascinated with the ethics of it. There is the potential for good and the potential for harm.

Artificial intelligence is dual use. It can be used for good and bad. Also, the same technologies that are being created for positive aims can also be misused. The ethics of it became very interesting to me. I’m trying to write an action-packed spy thriller. At the end of the day, the book is about human beings. It is not about computer code or anything like that, but I wanted to show how potentially a bad actor could weaponize artificial intelligence.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Mark Greaney | The Gray Man


It’s an arms race. I feel like back in the 2010s, the idea of autonomous robots having the ability to take a person’s life, for example, was out there. Russia had drones that it was using to patrol its nuclear sites. It wasn’t manned just because they didn’t have the manpower. It was something that came into the scientific literature, “Is this ethical or not?”

We left it as a gray space just because the fact is that it wasn’t an American actor that was doing this to teach their own. Now, I feel like it’s much more ubiquitous. We’re using a lot of autonomous vehicles in our own military. What did you find in your research that you felt was the most significant thing that made you say, “This is the big bad thing that I have to talk about?”

You’re absolutely right. It is an arms race in speed and the two principal players in this are China and the United States. The United States invented the aircraft or the airplane, but by the 1940s, we had no advantage because technology always proliferates. We did have an advantage with aircraft because we were using aircraft carriers. It was basically how we implemented it.

Artificial intelligence is dual use. It can be used for good and it could be used for bad. The same technologies that are being created for positive aims can also be misused.

Where we are now, Turkey has some drones with autonomous features. Russia has drones with autonomous features. Iran does, as well. Mostly, the AI on board is for image classification. It’s not necessarily making the decision to kill on their own. In the war in Ukraine right now, the Ukrainians are losing 10,000 drones a month and that’s very worthwhile. The military calls it attritable[Ma2] . They’re cheap to lose because these are $400 drones out of China and pack a real punch. If you lose 10,000 of them, that’s $4 million a month. One F-16 fighter plane is $63 million.

The calculus definitely tends towards this as being much more significant in a wartime setting.

Yes, absolutely. The positives of that are a lot of people think that we’ll have machines fighting our wars for us, and that will save lives, but my understanding of history says otherwise, unfortunately, because Richard Gatling invented the Gatling gun back in the 1800s, and his goal was to save lives. It’s because you could put four people on the battlefield who could do the work of 100 people. You’re going to save lives, but that’s not how it turned out. I do have a positive view of artificial intelligence in a whole lot of ways. It accelerates the decision-making process. If you want a medical diagnosis, that is awesome. That’s fantastic but if you’re being pursued by a kamikaze drone, that’s not awesome. It’s all in the ethics and it’s all in how it’s being used.

What is being used right now that you found in your research that you may have incorporated into your book? I know that when we’re talking about the arms race, I feel that supercomputing was a big thing a while ago. A lot of money was being invested into that. Now, it’s artificial intelligence. Certainly, you must have seen something in your research that said, “This is interesting. This is something that I want to talk about.”

The robotics platforms are interesting. That’s the sexy aspect of it as far as there are quadruped carrying 6.5 Creedmoor rifles that are able to be deployed. China has drones that will deploy these robot dogs with rifles on their backs and drop them off rooftops. The aircraft can loiter while a fight happens, and then pick it up and fly away. I don’t think they’re being fielded yet, but there’s nothing in this book that is not existing or emerging technology. I saw a prototype of a lot of it, so I’ve extended it into the near future when these things are weaponized. Also, the Chinese have aimed to create a Special Forces unit just of robots that they can deploy overseas.

You’re asking me what’s the scariest or what’s on the horizon, but honestly, I think the first thing that we all are going to encounter is the ability to use AI for misinformation and disinformation. I think that’s already here and it’s already growing. The internet is the central nervous system of our civilization, so the ability of machine learning can create just so much out there that’s not real. Also, it’s going to have the effect of having us question and doubt things. The good side is that you want AI to take over the dangerous, dirty, or dull jobs, but at the same time, you got the negative.

I hope that it’s something that we see less of. I know that it’s something that Congress is especially talking about, but the disinformation capabilities of not only AI but the internet in general. That’s one of the things that is great about people like you who are writing what I consider to be near-future science fiction. It gives us a sense of what is possible so that we don’t have to live it in real life before we respond to it.

Positive And Negative Aspects Of AI Applications

That’s something that has always been one of the reasons why I love science fiction. When you plan these things out in advance, it makes for a much smoother reality for us. We’ve already thought about the potential negative aspects of it. I think that this idea of artificial intelligence being incorporated into the military could be a good one. Have you seen it in your research for The Chaos Agent book? Are there any positive aspects other than the idea of being removed from the battlefield?

It’s because I feel like if I was a soldier, the ability to have real-time intelligence with an AI assistant that was able to give me real-time battlefield information. I don’t know if that exists or not, but obviously, you’re a lot closer to this than I am. Tell us a little bit about that. Do you see any positive aspects for the military at all?

Absolutely. Things as mundane and unsexy as logistics, repair schedules, and all this sort of stuff can be handled and are being utilized by the military. There was a project thing called Project Raven several years ago with the Defense Department. They’re doing it full-time now, but it sort of began with Project Raven, where they used artificial intelligence to look over tens of thousands of hours of drone footage.

Instead of having intelligence analysts watch thousands and thousands of hours looking for whatever they’re looking for, AI could do it. This was done with Google and it blew up in everyone’s face because people at Google wrote a letter saying that they didn’t want it with the military because it was weaponizing. There was no weaponization of this whatsoever. It was employing AI in a way that it’s supposed to be employed.

Artificial intelligence is either analytical, predictive, or operational and this was analytical. However, at the time, who knows? The employees at Google might feel differently now, but at the time, they didn’t want to work with the military. My concern is that if China is a threat to us and they turn the keys over in a large sense in the military, then we will have to do the same.

Robotics-wise, there are these pack mule four-legged robots you may have seen before that the Marines are fielding that can do so much. Primarily, in most cases, they’re driven. It’s not all artificial intelligence, but it is robotics, and they have artificial intelligence on board. That’s how they keep from slipping, falling, and tripping over things by using AI and different means to keep balance and keep on mission. They’re assigned a mission and they do it.

We’re going to see fewer and fewer drone pilots and more and more onboard artificial intelligence systems in the future. If it’s your military using it, it’s all good. If the other military is using it, it is probably all bad. In your example, if you were a soldier, if I was a twenty-year-old kid that was climbing the mountains of Afghanistan, I’d love to have something there taking my 80-pound pack off of my back and helping me or analytically the drones over the horizon letting me know what’s coming up.

How does the military feel about it? From what I know of you, you do a lot of research and are very closely knit with a lot of these embedded organizations. You go and you train with them. You do a lot of stuff that’s very close to the military. I’m sure that you have off the record conversations or at least a little bit more social conversations where you can get their idea of how they feel about this new technology. Do they feel like it’s something that they’re excited about? All the propaganda side, I’m sure every technology, they’re going to say that they’re excited about, but did they have the same concerns that the rest of the public does with oversight and things like that?

Yes. In my private conversations, I heard complaints that there wasn’t enough funding for this stuff, but I imagine you would hear that in any private conversation with someone in the military. It was such a small percentage of the Defense Department budget, and it’s an emerging technology with so much potential. I heard different versions of that along the way. I think there’s a lot of excitement in the military about it.

Analytical stuff, as much as the weaponization, as much as the operational stuff is interesting, but on the weaponization side, in the military, they refer to something called the OODA loop, which was created or identified by an Air Force pilot in the 1950s named John Boyd. OODA is a paradigm of combat. It’s how you fight. It’s Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. The US military and official Defense Department doctrine is that on the OODA loop, which is how every engagement takes place, there will always be a human on the loop or in the loop.

Being in the loop means making that decision. Being on the loop means overseeing the decisions that artificial intelligence makes. That is official doctrine. In private conversations, I never heard anything other than that except for everyone’s concern that if the human is the ultimate circuit breaker, which is great ethically, but it’s also the weak link when you’re talking about machine speed, tactical, and operational overmatch that pure AI would pose to something where a human is the one doing it. I think that is their concern. The development is going as fast and as hard as funding will allow at this point.

At least in the US Military, there’s always going to be an oversight in the decision between taking somebody’s life. Is that something that you’ve been exposed to? I don’t know if that is an actual doctrine or not, but I know that Russia, specifically with those drones that were protecting their nuclear sites back in the 2010s, it was something that came up as ethics. Is that something that the US Military has taken the high ground on?

Yes. That is their doctrine. The Defense Department says that there will always be a human on or in the loop. That’s why the ethics of this are so interesting to me because it’s not so cut and dried. When I was a young kid in college, I thought that every problem had an obvious solution. As I’ve gotten older and the deeper I get into the type of research that I do, a lot of times you scratch your head and you go, “I see why this is so complicated.” It’s because the ethics are great. The ethics go out the window the day the enemy does something else.

The ethics go out the window the day the enemy does something else.

Also, President Xi in China has said science and technology are the ultimate battlegrounds with the West, and they are all in on this. They have an aging population in China. Going back to the positive, China’s doing some amazing things with port automation and mining, using robotics and artificial intelligence. They’re not just applying it to the military. They’re applying it to every way that they think it can make life more efficient for them and good on them for that. However, in the United States, the US Military officially says and I don’t say that as a caveat. I’m saying that, as far as I know, there will always be a human on that decision-making loop.

Maybe it’s patriotism or whatever, but I do feel like we tend to make decisions with at least some ethics involved. There are probably other people that might disagree, but that’s the way that I feel about it. Something that you talked about is that China has this stuff, enveloping a lot of different industries. Also, something we’re probably going to see within the next few years, we’re probably going to have an AI assistant that says, “Can you schedule me a haircut?”

It’s going to be able to do that and know you well enough to know your schedule and, and get it at your favorite barber. At least from your books, you’re very close with a lot of these organizations, or at least you talk about a lot of these organizations that I feel people have concerns about, like privacy and stuff like that. How do you feel in your regular life? Are you doing anything different? Are you excited about this technology or are you hesitant? Do you have an Alexa at home? What is your normal life like?

A lot of the stuff that you write about is the worst-case scenario. You’re going after each other. It has interesting character backstories and stuff, but it is certainly the most extreme version of these kinds of technologies. How does Mark Greaney use technology in his everyday life? Do you have some hesitation when it comes to this kind of stuff, or are you an early adopter? Where do you lie on the spectrum?

There’s a massive disconnect between its negative aspects in my book and how I live my life personally. We probably have about eight Alexas because I have three kids. They always seem to go offline when it’s time for dinner. On my book tour, I was in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, and they have Waymo’s, which is a robot car. It’s a completely self-driving car. My wife did not want to get in one of those, but I wanted to. She was fine. They’re Jaguars. We rode probably about five of those, and one was about a 40-minute drive. It was perfect.

Also, not to be negative, but when we were leaving Phoenix after the tour, we had to be at the airport at 5:00 AM or something. I said, “I’m just going to call a regular driver,” because I don’t know what it’s like at the airport with the Waymo’s. If they have to park somewhere else or whatever, after two days of driving around in these incredible vehicles that got you right where you wanted to go, clean, efficient, and all that sort of stuff, I got picked up by a guy who wreaked alcohol at 5:15 in the morning. When we got out of the car, I looked at my wife and said, “You’re worried about the robots.”

Human beings, you just said, are the weak link in this whole chain, right?

Yeah, unfortunately, in all aspects. I’ve played around with ChatGPT mostly to understand it while I was doing the research. At one point I asked it to write me 50 titles for my next book. I gave it some parameters, but I didn’t use any of them. However, it gave me ideas. It led me in a direction. One thing that I’ve come across on this book tour is to be interviewed by some radio station somewhere, and the DJ will be like, “I don’t know what all the concern is about this because I tried to get AI to write a song about my dog and it didn’t rhyme.”

What AI Can Do Now And In The Near Future

They’ll find some flaws and say that this is nothing to worry about. I’m like, “It’s in its infancy right now. Also, right now, not in the future, and not emerging, artificial intelligence can beat any American fighter pilot in a simulator. A famous example of this was a few years ago, when there were a bunch of different software companies competing to go up against humans in the simulator.

We got a good F-16 pilot and the company that won that went toe to toe in a dogfight and won 15 to 0. The human never got a shot off. The artificial intelligence was fighting in ways that it had not been taught how to fight. It’s pulling itself up by its bootstraps and teaching itself. It was doing something called front quarter shots, which is where you’re going nose to nose with your adversary and firing missiles.

Humans are not trained to do that because when you’re going Mach 1 and somebody else is going Mach 1, you tend to try and get behind them and not in front of them to fight. It was fighting completely differently, and artificial intelligence has scored human-level scores on the SAT and the bar exam and other things like that. Anyone who says it’s not sophisticated doesn’t have that forward-thinking view. We’re already at this stage and the computing power that’s going into AI has increased 10,000,000,000% since the year 2010. The data used by AI is doubling every nine months or something like that.

The computing power that’s going into AI has increased 10000000000% since the year 2010. The data used by AI is like doubling every nine months or so.

I think that what people worry about in those situations is some sort of replacement with artificial intelligence or at least, I hope that it’s more of a symbiosis where we leverage that technology to become better versions of ourselves. Also, fighter pilots will be able to use the same kind of techniques and stuff. However, certainly that artificial intelligence is certainly not susceptible to the same kind of physiologic limitations. They could probably push the aircraft and G-Forces that a human being wouldn’t be able to withstand.

That’s part of it. The other part of it is it doesn’t care about getting home to the wife and children in one piece and things like that. The human brain is the most powerful processor in the world. Nothing I saw makes me think that’s going to change. Everyone talks about becoming sentient or conscious, like Skynet or something. I think at some point, artificial intelligence will become sophisticated enough to be commensurate with human intelligence, but not in any way, shape, or form human. With all my concerns and all my waving the flag, I don’t see that happening. The question is in the military field, whether we can leverage it better than our adversaries.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Mark Greaney | The Gray Man


I hate to classify people as adversaries and not just because I know that there are human beings in the end, like the Chinese AI. Correct me if I’m wrong. You’ve done more research into this. I don’t know if it’s just my patriotic bias. I was born and raised in the US, and I think that I have the idea that the US is more ethical in its implementation and use of this kind of stuff. I haven’t seen that from other countries that are using this technology. Is that just my own bias talking or is it something that is an actual fact?

If it’s your bias, it’s probably a bias that we share. Looking at China and stepping away from AI for a second, China is the number one miner of rare earth minerals on planet Earth because they have more rare earth minerals than the United States or anywhere else. It’s because they have no regulatory barriers to destroying the environment for the purpose of extracting rare earth minerals. I hate to extrapolate that over everything, but in the United States, we’re slowed, and possibly for a good reason. Our military is slowed by regulations and rules, and the Chinese don’t have it.

Our private AI labs have more rules over them than what’s happening in China. There are 238 large language models developed in China. I think there’s very little, other than the Chinese government wanting technology and having access to it. In the United States, I think we’re more careful with it. There are a billion security cameras in China, and half a billion of them are in China.

China using AI is the number one leader in facial recognition software and all that. Unfortunately, they’ve exported that to 80 countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. That technology is kind of hoovering up all this data that can be used and that’s something that companies in the United States would not be allowed to do in the same way.

How do you feel about the comparison of surveillance state between China and the US? I know that when you go to New York City, there are cameras everywhere. There’s some technological progress on that front in the US as well. I think that personally, I don’t see a lot of the negative aspects of it, but you’re very close to it, especially if it’s something that you write about in your books. How do you feel about that?

I’m okay with it because I feel like there are pretty good legal safeguards for what can be used and what cannot be used. I live in Memphis, Tennessee, and it’s a city with unfortunately very high crime and getting worse. It does not bother me at all that there’s a camera on the end of my street with a blue light flashing over it so people know that they’re being watched. Now, is anyone monitoring it on the other end? I don’t know if the Memphis Police Department has somebody there. I know they’re not using artificial intelligence to find the dangers out there at this stage, but I’d love to see that in the future.

I think you see a ton of cameras here. You see a lot more if you’re in London, for example. The last time I was in China was in 2013, so it’s been a long time. There were a lot then, but technology has changed so quickly. There’s a lot more now. I am not of doom and gloom things to worry about. I am not worried about a surveillance state in the United States.

I think you were about to say you were a father. I was thinking the same thing. I was thinking that if my two-year-old was abducted or something like that, I would hope that there were cameras available. I think that the idea of safety versus liberty is such a complex topic and it depends on where you are at in your stage of life. I might not have felt like that when I was sixteen years old and trying to buy cigarettes. That’s not a version of Dr. Awesome would be interested in.

Now, I’m a father. I see a lot of these safety measures and I’m like, “I get it. I know it’s some kind of government oversight. I know it’s some sort of control,” but on the same token, I do feel a little bit more comfortable when my kid is walking to preschool and there are seven cameras on the way. Do you feel the same way being a dad?

Absolutely. When my sixteen-year-old stepdaughter began driving, we put a thing on her phone to let us know how fast she was going, how quickly she was accelerating, and where she was at all times. I would’ve hated that when I was sixteen. I would’ve thought that was very intrusive, but your perspective changes as you get older, as it should.

I think it’s probably healthy to rebel against that when you’re younger, but it would be unhealthy to rebel against that now. Sadly, where I live, there’s a lot of crime. The one good thing about the surveillance state, as people call it, is that the crimes are usually filmed, or the perpetrator is caught. That’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking to have it prevent crime, but it might not. I would imagine if I was some criminal and I saw blue light cameras. The neighborhood has to come up with the money and then the police will put a camera on your street, which supposedly should lower crime.

There hasn’t been any crime on my street. I can get in my car and go five minutes away and find some trouble, but I think it’s a good thing. I remember Edward Snowden and stuff about a few years ago where he came out and said, “We’re spying on ourselves.” A lot of people were up in arms about that. I thought he was a traitor for giving the intelligence he gave to China and running away with it, but different people disagreed with that.

Just like your series, there’s a lot of gray with all this stuff. It’s tough to find where the true right and wrong is when it comes to a lot of this new technology, but if you think about it, technology is coming whether we like it or not. I think it’s a tool in the same way that a hammer is a tool. You could use it to build a house or you could use it to hurt somebody. We have to look at the positive aspects of technology.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Mark Greaney | The Gray Man


As a father and a surgeon in 2024, I think there are so many different aspects of technology that weren’t available many years ago that make my life so much easier, better and more interesting. There are negative aspects, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are a lot of positive aspects as well. I’m looking forward to the next few years. Artificial intelligence is a component of that. I can’t tell you the day that they get sentient, robots that are able to fold my laundry, Mark, I’m going to be the first person in line for that. I think that that’s something that’s coming down the pipeline.

I read an article about a company in China that had developed a bipedal robot that would watch you do something and mimic it like make yourself a cup of coffee. That’s still in the developmental phase, but I’m all for that. Also, think about anyone with a disability. What a game-changer that could be for them. There’s a line in the book where somebody is asked if they’re pro or anti-artificial intelligence. They’re like, “Are you for or against fire?” If the fire is keeping you warm, you’re for it. If it’s burning your house down, you’re against it. It’s like that with everything.

Have you seen the new Neuralink videos where this dude has an implantable chip in his head and he is able to play chess just by thinking about it?

No, I’ve read articles about it. You move a cursor on a screen and all that sort of stuff.

I don’t know if in your research anybody else is doing that other than the US and Elon Musk with Neuralink because there are so many technologies that you probably have been researching in preparation for your book and artificial intelligence is a component of it, but I didn’t know if brain user interface is something that other countries are doing or if it’s just the US.

When I started writing this book, initially, I was looking at Elon Musk wanting to put a chip in everybody’s brain and going like, “I’ve got an idea for the antagonist in my next book,” but then as I started doing the research, I became more fascinated with the robotics and the Defense Department’s linked to these private AI labs. It morphed away from that, but that’s what I was looking at in the beginning. I don’t know if other nations are. You have to assume that China is just about where we are as far as the development of this technology. Not quite, but just about.

We have access to chips that they don’t have access to. They’re a little bit behind us, but they’re developing very rapidly. I would imagine, again, that’s something that could be used for good or used for bad. If you have a neurological disorder and a chip was able to fire muscles in your leg or something, it would be so beneficial to humankind.

I totally agree. Even just having the ability to have this conversation without using our laptops. That would be good for humanity. I think that any time we connect as a species is a good thing. I think that Zoom has been beneficial for humanity as a whole, especially during the pandemic. Book 25, the next antagonist for you I think putting chips and brains. That might be an interesting topic. The reason why I ask is because I know that there’s this push away from certain states and their communication devices like Huawei.

The Book Writing Process

There’s this push away from using those Chinese chips because they technically are a portion of the CCP or under the CCP. For social media in general, this whole push against TikTok, I didn’t know that would be something that also might get that kind of pushback. Regardless, I think that’s some interesting technology that has some military applications. We talked about it. I wanted to talk about one last question before we got into the general questions that I had talked about.

You’ve written over 25 books. I’m trying to write myself. I’m trying to write a nonfiction book. What’s your process like? I think that every aspiring writer looks at somebody like you and says, “That guy’s made it. He’s got a movie out with his intellectual property.” I’m writing nonfiction stuff, but you are still a professional in this field. I’d love to know what your process is.

I’ll start by saying that I’ve been an unsuccessful author a lot longer than I’ve been a successful author. I wanted to be a writer in 1990 and I got published in 2009. I spent fifteen years trying to write my first book. I wrote my second book in seven months because once I’d written a book, it was a mess, but it was finished. Once, I look back and go like, “How hard did you work?”

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I loved it and I enjoyed writing. The goal was not to get paid a lot of money or be famous. I had this epiphany in my late 30s and I was like, “You haven’t found any success in this, but this is where your brain likes to go when you’re walking your dog. You like to sit there, develop stories, write them out, and struggle through the tough parts because it’s very satisfying when you can hold something in your hand.”

At that point, everybody’s coming to me and saying, “How can you inspire me?” I’m like, “If you need me to inspire you, it’s probably not for you. It has to be something that you enjoy doing or love doing, or you have this strong sense that you have news that you want to get out.” As you’re talking about nonfiction, I imagine you’re passionate about something and want to talk about it. My process at this stage in my career is I’m committed to writing a bunch of books. I only have about six months to write a novel. Before I do any research, I start brainstorming ideas, and I call it my Flash Gordon outline.

I’ll write out this wild story, and as I do the research, I realize what works and what doesn’t. I step away from that and I try and write. The key to doing this job is consistency. It’s not about being awesome any one day. You almost never have a great day writing because if I totally tear the computer up and write fifteen pages, I’ve written less than 1% of my book. It’s a very incremental thing. That’s why I feel like it’s something you have to love. I spent a lot of time talking about wanting to be a writer, and once I’d written a book, I was like, “If I didn’t walk around talking about it and I just sat there and did it, I bet I could write a book a lot faster.” As I said, my second book I did in seven months.

The key to being an author is consistency. It’s not about being awesome any one day.

I hear that all the time, and the biggest hurdle for me is being consistent with it. Kudos to you for being able to stick to it and make an amazing body of work. I think that it’s interesting. As I was saying, near-future science fiction is one of my favorite genres because I feel like it unfolds a lot of the stuff happening in the news so that we can be more thoughtful about the direction we’re going as a species. Thank you for giving us your insight into how you got started and everything like that.

We’re getting close to the end of our time. I wanted to talk with you a little bit about general questions that I ask all of my amazing and intelligent guests, just so that I have an idea of where their heads are. The first one is your inspiration. We talked about your love of writing, but you have a genre that you picked that has worked well and that interests you. What draws you to this? Where do you gain inspiration from?

You can see from my background the whole reason that I like near-future technology or even far-future technology is science fiction. I grew up with Star Trek, Star Wars, and all these things I want to see happen. I’m excited that they’re going to happen. That’s where I gained inspiration, but what about Mark Greaney? Where do you gain your inspiration from when you’re writing these spy thrillers?

My father was the head of the local NBC affiliate, Foreign Affairs, and things of that nature. I had a subscription to The Economist and US News when I was sixteen years old. I guess that makes me a nerd, but I read a lot of nonfiction.

I had Popular Mechanics.

I think we’ve both gone down a path that you could have seen earlier. A lot of time reading nonfiction, I enjoyed World World War II and learning about it. My dad was a combat veteran in Germany and World War II. He’s an American, but he was fighting in Germany. Also, the Civil War, because I live in the south and Shiloh is a couple of hours from my house. I grew up fascinated with that sort of thing. I declared a major in college after reading the first thriller that I ever bought in my life. It was Patriot Games by Tom Clancy. I was nineteen years old.

How amazing is it that you got to work with him?

It’s completely surreal and just good luck because we had the same editor, but we only had the same editor because every other editor that my agent submitted me to turned me down. The one guy who took me was Tom Clancy’s editor, and a few years later he needed a co-author and we started talking. My dad and I had given each other the Clancy books every year for Christmas when they would come out. That stuff changed my life.

Books have gotten me through tough points in my life and it’s always the best compliment I can get from a reader when they say, “My mom was sick and I was in the hospital every day.” There’s nothing greater that I want my books to do than escapism and having people go behind doors that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise through fiction. That’s what inspires me. I always feel like I have a better book in me, and I don’t have any ambition to become more well-known. It’s more like I want to get that next book out and make it better than the last one.

The Military And AI In 10 Years

We talked a lot about different aspects of artificial intelligence. It’s a huge part of The Chaos Agent, your next book. Where do you see this in a few years? Where do you see this developing, specifically in the military realm?

I would say in a few years, so much of our analytical stuff is going to be done with technology. I believe there are still going to be humans in the loop. If the enemy is able to take the humans out of the loop in some way, shape, or form, I don’t think it’s going to be on a scale. They’re not going to have fifth-generation fighter aircraft that are all run by AI in a few years. I don’t see that on the horizon.

The doomsayers or whatever say that anything that’s electrified can be cognitized[Ma4] . Again, that could be great if it’s your refrigerator telling you that your milk’s gone bad and it could be bad if it’s something darker. I think in the military, the whole maintenance, logistics, shipping, and all these things are going to be taken. The dull, dangerous, and dirty jobs will be taken back. I think we’ll have human-machine teams’ support from robotics, as we’re starting to see now on a small scale.

Bomb explosive ordnance detail teams have had these robots that they pilot themselves that can deactivate bombs and things like that. That’s going to be done more with artificial intelligence. Drone technology is where it’s growing the fastest. Unfortunately, war is the ultimate accelerant of innovation. If you look at what’s going on in Ukraine right now, the drones have become so much more sophisticated in the past 24 months. That’s only going to continue. I do feel like drones are going to be a bigger issue. I don’t think we will have turned over the keys to Skynet or anything like that.

I don’t think so, either. I do think that a lot of those fears are overblown, but I respect the caution when it comes to this kind of technology because I do think that it’s a new field. I appreciate your insight. Artificial intelligence aside, my last question would be all of the stuff independent of what you’re an expert in. What technology excites you that’s coming down the pipeline just for your own day-to-day life?

I told you that I can’t wait to have a butler robot. That, for me, is always going to be number one. I cannot wait until the day happens when I don’t have to do my laundry. For you, artificial intelligence aside, what is something that’s coming in the news that you can’t get read enough of or you are excited about?

I’m very excited about self-driving cars. I talked about it briefly. I just took my first ride in one and just the technology. I remember the first time I was driving. I’d gotten a new car. I was driving and it started raining. Before I could activate the wipers, the wipers started going and I’d remember almost parking the car going, “What is going on?” Now, there’s the lane-keeping assist and all these things that do help you. My wife hates it. My wife feels like she’s losing control. I’m confident in my driving ability, but I wouldn’t mind somebody looking over my shoulder.

You have a long commute. It opens up this protected time where you could write or with your family. Getting that time back would be so huge. There are people in this country who drive for hours. That would be a huge benefit for them. I see that. Everybody says that it’s always five years away. I hope that it’s down the pipeline.

Thanks so much for speaking with us. I appreciate getting your insight. It’s cool to talk to somebody who is writing about what we are going to see in the near future. I think we often talk about the future as something that is this far away thing, but a lot of the stuff you’re talking about is happening right now. I appreciate speaking with you, especially somebody who’s as accomplished as you are with all of the acclaim that you’ve had from your books. They’re interesting.

For any of our readers who haven’t had an experience with the Gray Man series, I would suggest it. I was a big fan of Tom Clancy, just like Mark was. I got reintroduced to this genre and I can’t put it down. I’m excited to read more of what he has to offer, but for those other readers who tune in on a regular basis and can’t wait to see the next episode, we will see you again in the future. Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.


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About Mark Greaney

The Futurist Society Podcast | Mark Greaney | The Gray ManMark Greaney has a degree in international relations and political science. In his research for the Gray Man novels, including Sierra Six, Relentless, One Minute Out, Mission Critical, Agent in Place, Gunmetal Gray, Back Blast, Dead Eye, Ballistic, On Target, and The Gray Man, he traveled to more than thirty-five countries and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine, and close-range combative tactics. With Marine LtCol Rip Rawlings, he wrote the New York Times bestseller, Red Metal.

He is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers Tom Clancy Support and Defend, Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect, Tom Clancy Commander in Chief, and Tom Clancy True Faith and Allegiance. With Tom Clancy, he coauthored Locked On, Threat Vector, and Command Authority.

Visit him online at


By: The Futurist Society