THE MAGAZINE

The Geeks of War: The Secretive Labs and Brilliant Minds Behind Tomorrow’s Warfare Technologies

By Dean C. Alexander

***** The Geeks of War: The Secretive Labs and Brilliant Minds Behind Tomorrow’s Warfare Technologies. By John Edwards; published by AMACOM, 800/262-9699 (phone), www.amanet.org (Web); 221 pages; $24.

In The Geeks of War, journalist John Edwards introduces technology that might have military—and ultimately private-sector security—applications. He presents many interesting subjects, including state-of-the-art body armor and robotics, though sometimes inconsistently and insufficiently.

Each chapter highlights certain technologies, related to tactical systems, information systems, vehicles and logistics, protective gear, and more.

Edwards mentions government and university researchers active in these areas, but not always the principal or most significant ones. For example, it’s true that the Department of Energy, which Edwards invokes, is doing important work on intelligent software programs, but no less important are cutting-edge programs at intelligence-related incubators, such as the CIA’s In-Q-Tel and the National Security Agency-linked Chesapeake Innovation Center, which merit nary a mention.

There is scant—and often no—discussion of major issues, such as the difficult path from research and development to the commercialization of technology, or the patentability and ownership issues that often arise in newly developed technologies. Similarly neglected are the role of private-sector technology incubators, government funding and venture capital, as well as public-private and university partnerships, and the applicability of technologies to the civilian and security sectors.

Perhaps that’s expecting too much of one book, but some mention of these topics would have underscored the multifaceted nature of the technology and its difficult route to actual use by the military.

In addition, the book would have benefited from greater discussion of the strategic role of technology in military settings and its limitations. After all, even with the use of databases in intelligence gathering and analysis, the human element should not be underestimated. So too, technologies from sensor-filled uniforms to hand-held computers don’t make battlefield decisions. Humans do.

The book’s readability varies, as it shifts from simple to complex prose, depending on the elaboration of the underlying technology. This is forgivable given the diverse subject matter. Yet the lack of formal, substantive introductory and conclusion chapters, coupled with the absence of a bibliography or footnotes, damages the book’s authority.

Nevertheless, the book has merit in that it highlights technological developments that could aid the military—and perhaps security and other sectors for years to come. It’s probably better suited to technologists and defense-sector analysts than to traditional security personnel, though it would make for an interesting read for the latter.


Reviewer: Dean C. Alexander is assistant professor of homeland security at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Business Confronts Terrorism and a member of ASIS International.

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