[Book Review] Nexus

Nexus / Ramez Naam (Powell's Books)

The singularity is nigh, and we are it.  What happens when technology allows us to transcend the bounds of humanity?  Who controls it, who uses it?  Do we fear it, embrace it, improve ourselves, or abuse it?

Kade is a brilliant scientist and dreamer, and is one of the minds behind a breakthrough in an experimental nano-drug allowing mind to mind networking.  They've transmuted Nexus from an ephemeral temporary experience to an operating system that can be fully integrated into your brain, complete with the ability to run programs that effect your whole body.  He and his friends see Nexus as an opportunity to improve life for everyone, increasing empathy and knowledge.  Unfortunately the United States government sees the dangers of Nexus and none of the benefit, marking he research of Kade and his companions as a threat to humanity and stripping them of basic legal protection for their perceived crimes.

Now Kade is a reluctant asset for the Emerging Risks Directorate (ERD), with his friends' freedom riding on his compliance in targeting one of the greatest technological minds in existence.  Someone Kade admires for her brilliant innovation and vision, and someone who the ERD believe is responsible for illegal, humanity threatening research as well as the use of such research to manipulate governments and incite terror.

But Kade's not the only one experimenting with Nexus, Nexus is not illegal everywhere, and nothing is as clear cut as it seems.  Is humanity on the brink of evolution or on the brink of a war between humans and post-humans?

Nexus was the Virtual Speculation pick for March, next month we will be reading Alif : the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson.  In the mean time I hope this review piques your interest and that the discussion questions are of use.

Discussion Fodder:
  • "Kade had never asked anyone their sign before.  He supposed in a way he still hadn't.  The software had done that with his mouth and lungs.  Did that count?" (pg. 9).  At various points throughout the book someone's behavior and action is influenced or completely controlled by Nexus applications, is it still you doing something when this happens?
  • What do you think about the parallels between Nexus and LSD or counter-culture?  Do you see parallels in the Nexus party experiments and Ken Kesey & The Merry Prankster's Acid Tests, or between Timothy Leary's "Turn on, tune in, drop out" and the "Close Door and Open Mind As You Enter" sign at the party?
  • There are many different stances on ethics concerning Nexus, the responsibilities of a scientist, and the sharing of information.  Kade repeatedly feels that as a scientist he must take responsibility for the repercussions of his actions, but how far does that go?  Some believe that information must be free, others believe that the dangers outweigh the good.  Is it ethical to limit the growth of humanity, the quality of life?  On the flip side, is it ethical to release technology that allows for the complete exploitation of someone's body?  Who is responsible for the atrocities enacted with this technology?
  • Do you think that the fictional history is plausible as technology advances? What do you think of some of the technology in Nexus (such as home blood test cancer screening)?
  • What do you think about the decision to assign Sam to the Nexus missions?  Is she the one who could best understand the dangers or is she the weakest link?  Is it ethical for her to be on the mission?
  • A strong case is made for the spiritual potential for something like Nexus, particularly by the Buddhist monks.  How might Nexus effect other religions and spiritualities?  How might it effect concepts of zen and nirvana?  Is a single humanity nirvana?
  • What is the line that separates human from trans/post human?  What do you think are the implications and repercussions of this "evolution'?  Is the danger in the change occurring quickly or slowly?
  • Is the opportunity for group intelligence an elevation or a danger?  Are we looking at a pathway to greater thought and creativity or to a hive mind or borg?
  • "Scientists have to show respect for the law, Professior," Franks replied.  "Perhaps the law should show respect for science instead, Doctor." (pg. 155).  Where is the line that law should control science, and where is the line where science should control the law?
  • "But through history, when people have had the chance to use technology to improve their own lives, they've done a lot of good along with the harm.  The good has more than outweighed the bad.  Dramatically so.  That's the only reason we're here today." (pg. 274)  What do you think about this statement?  Is it true?  Optimistic?  Misguided?
  • "We find that the Constitution guarantees protections only to human persons.  Non-human persons such as those created by the combination of non-human genes with human genes, by the integration of technology that affords non-human abilities, or by any significant deviation from the existing spectrum of human characteristics, are afforded no special protections.  As such, Congress and the states may legislate the status of non-human persons without regard to the Constitutional protections afforded to humans." (pg. 288) What do you think about the potential for abuse of this ruling (even with today's technology)?
  • What are the implications of children born with Nexus in their system?  What problems would be faced in integrating "posthuman" children into a still "human" society?
  • Is technology advancement a 'cold war'?  What do you think about the 'arms race' and escalation that takes place in Nexus?


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