Nexus — Because Your Brain Deserves Only The Best OS

Books Education Technology

Nexus Nexus

With the holidays coming up, I’ve got to tell you about Ramez Naam’s new science fiction novel, Nexus: Mankind Gets an Upgrade. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version, here it is: It’s good. Scary good. Take a chance and stop reading now and have a great time reading a bleeding edge technical thriller that is full of surprises.

Okay, since you’re still with me, I’m guessing you need convincing. Fair enough.

Nexus is the name of a nano-drug that allows brain-to-brain communication for brief periods of time. It’s illegal. It’s addictive. And it’s just been upgraded. A new version, Nexus 5, creates the connection permanently, and with the Nexus OS installed, all sorts of new and interesting programming can be introduced into a user’s system. Want to have more confidence? There’s a Nexus app for that! Need to maintain your vitals to fool a lie detector test? Easily done. Control another person under the effects of Nexus 5? Yeah, and that’s a real problem for the Emerging Risks Directorate, the ERD.

In 2040, the ERD is the arm of Homeland Security responsible for putting the brakes on runaway technologies. After a a failed terrorist attack ten years prior that involved an engineered virus and a delivery system involving clones, the Chandler Act was passed, restricting research into genetics, cloning, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and any approach to creating “superhuman” beings.

These restrictions are now enforced world-wide by most countries… but not all. While R&D in the USA is heavily monitored, the ERD resorts to using enhanced soldiers and spies to root out organizations and individuals, locally and internationally, who are constantly testing the boundaries of the Chandler Act and, in many instances, openly violating it in public. One of these individuals is Kaden (Kade) Lane, a graduate student doing some not-so-legal R&D development involving Nexus. Kade’s group of friends is pushing the limits and taking chances, and they’ve got the attention of the ERD. Agent Samara (Sam) Chavez is quite familiar with Nexus, but not Nexus 5. Sam gains Kade’s trust and infiltrates his group, and then the ERD bring them down. Hard.

Kade is recruited (blackmailed, actually) into assisting the ERD in determining the intentions of China. More specifically, Kade is given the job of infiltrating one of the most successful neuroscientists in the world, Su-Yong Shu. The ERD has some good ideas (and evidence) of violations committed by Su-Yong, and they also are completely lacking in information related to her real intentions. Kade is sent to a special conference in Thailand to try and obtain employment with Su-Yong who has become aware of Kade’s group’s work with Nexus 5. The ERD sends Sam along as chaperone, and she’s running a full version of Nexus 5 and capable of maintaining constant communication with Kade using the neural link the drug has created in her brain.

As with any good thriller, nothing is as it seems. Motives are cloudy, loyalties are questionable, and the truth is a moving target. But that’s not what I loved most about Nexus. What this story provided was a believable future. I’m not saying I’d be first in line to load an operating system into my head using nanotechnology, but there’s something appealing about removing the apps from my phone and installing them in my head, ready to run whenever need them. And while Nexus demonstrates all the cool ways the technology could be used, it also provides the flip side. Software crashes may require a reboot of your OS, but if someone gets past your firewall and other defenses, what’s to stop them from forcing your heart to race until it explodes? What happens when someone improves the technology to the point that they can physically control your body?

As I read the book, I continually flip-flopped on this technology. Here’s Kade transferring files to and from a server, all with mental commands. Here’s Sam being mentally bound in a chair, unable to move and call for help. I knew I was hooked when I couldn’t make up my own mind where I stood on the tech. Naam’s dropped Kade and Sam on the frontline of an upcoming war between those who see Nexus as the next step in human evolution… and those who see it as a tool for further oppression and control.

Nexus is good. Scary good.

Because you can see today’s technology breakthroughs and medical advancements pointing us in this direction. It’s got all the gritty tech from a cyberpunk novel, minus the punk.

You’ll recognize the world of 2040 because not much has changed. It could be today… only with a few upgrades that fall easily into the realm of possibility. And that’s why Nexus is such a great science fiction story. It’s only science fiction because we haven’t caught up to the world of Nexus yet. But it’s coming. And if you’d like a glimpse of some of the possibilities we’ll be facing when it comes to advancements in neuroscience and brain-controlled technology, Nexus is going to scare you.

Like I said… it’s scary good.

Nexus: Mankind Gets An Upgrade will be available on December 18, 2012.

Note: I’d like to thank Ramez Naam for providing a review copy of the book.


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