Imagine a world where human minds can link up like computers on a network…where brains can be programmed or reprogrammed…where if you handle things with the right measure of tech-savvy and sociopathy, you could use the mind tech to turn people into killers. Ramez Naam imagined it for his sci-fi Nexus trilogy of books (Nexus, Crux, Apex).
A computer scientist, writer and speaker, Naam is also a member of the World Future Society, a Senior Associate of the Foresight Institute, and a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Naam took a break from his busy schedule to chat with Recursor about writing science fiction.
(This is part 1 of our chat. Part 2 will be posted next week.)
Recursor: What inspires you to write your books?
Naam: I love the tension and interplay between technology and society. How does a scientific or technology advance affect people and the world? How do different forces in society embrace it or fight it?
Photocopiers helped bring down the USSR. Cell phones made the Arab Spring possible. Twitter turned Black Lives Matter into a national phenomenon. What would direct brain connections do? I have a point of view to share.
Tell us about your point of view, especially as it relates to your fiction.
I’m pro-freedom. I’m suspicious of efforts to limit human freedom, even in the name of security, or safety, or protecting people from themselves. So my novels are an attempt to wrestle with how the science and technology affect to the world, and to inspire people to fight for freedom.
Your novels depict very realistic near–future situations and technology. What is your process for finding your material, researching it, and how does your background help?
I’m a computer scientist by training, and I’m a bit of a science junkie. My first book, More Than Human, was non-fiction. And I looked at these technologies like brain-computer interfaces and genetic engineering from a viewpoint of how they affect society. So when I went to write the Nexus novels, a lot of the research was there. The trick was to make it come to life with a story, and characters, and compelling conflicts and challenges.
Be sure to visit next week for more with Ramez Naam.
Ramez Naam is a computer scientist and the award-winning author of five books, including the Nexus series of science fiction novels and the non-fiction The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. Ramez’s brain-hacking and civil-liberties-focused science fiction novels have won the Prometheus Award, the Endeavour Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, been listed as an NPR Best Book of the Year, and have been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. Before turning to writing, Ramez spent 13 years at Microsoft, where he led teams working on machine learning, neural networks, information retrieval, and internet scale systems.