Ramez Naam is the H.G. Wells Award-Winning author of More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement. His current novel Nexus:Mankind Gets An Upgrade has been called, “Provocative… A double-edged vision of the post-human” by The Wall Street Journal. Ramez Naam is ready to tell us more about himself and Nexus.
Abby: Your novel Nexus is very interesting and thought provoking. For those that have not yet gotten to enjoy it would you mind giving a brief description of the story?
Ramez: The idea is that someone invented a drug called Nexus and the drug can link minds. The drug is actually a nanotechnology. It’s in a silver vile. You swallow it and it goes to your brain. If someone else has it in their brain too it communicates wirelessly. This drug is illegal. It’s highly illegal in the future of 2040 and so the story follows some young scientists in San Francisco who think it’s a great idea and are working to make the drug better. They put apps on top of it. They extend the range. There is a US government agency that is trying to prosecute this and crack down on it. It entraps them and blackmails one of these young scientists into being a spy for them and going to Thailand to spy on a Chinese scientist who might be doing very nefarious things with this drug like mind control and a little espionage.
Abby: Would you use Nexus if given the opportunity?
Ramez: I think I would. I definitely have some concerns about the security and safety and so on. I think that most of us would love to have that kind of ability linked right into our brains.
Abby: What is your background in technology?
Ramez: I worked at Microsoft for 13 years. I worked on Outlook, Internet Explorer and the Bing search engine. I also founded and ran a nanotechnology software company for a short time.
Abby: Which character do you feel you are the most like?
Ramez: Kade the protagonist. He’s kind of naive. He’s a scientist. He’s a little shy and he’s in way over his head. He’s not an action hero but he is stuck in the middle of an action thriller and he is definitely in deep.
Abby: Do you do martial arts? I ask because of the “Bruce Lee” program in the story.
Ramez: I am a lapsed martial artist. I have done it in the past but that does not prepare me to handle myself in a gunfight or anything like that. As a child and a teenager I took martial arts but I haven’t since then. I have always found that field very interesting.
Abby: Which martial art did you study?
Ramez: Karate. Goju-ryu actually which is the same style that is used in the Karate Kid movies.
Abby: You shared a lot of possibilities for changes in the field of human reproduction. What is Ova Fusion and Tri Fusion?
Ramez: Well these are new technologies for creating babies. So in theory we can create a baby with two mothers and no father at all by Ova Fusion. Or we can even create a baby with three parents by a Tri Fusion. So far as we know this hasn’t been tried in humans yet in any way. It does raise the possibility for the future. If a lesbian couple wants to have a baby and doesn’t want a sperm donor they can potentially have a baby.
Abby: That is a very interesting concept. I also enjoyed the concept of the living tattoos. What was your favorite human upgrade?
Ramez: Oh my gosh! There are so many. I think the living tattoos are interesting because people have always used technology to augment and change their appearance. We know right now every pigment in nature, every bright color you see on a bird or on a plant is the result of a protein made by genes. We can direct those genes into humans. Even the glowing firefly is a biological product of genes that those fireflies have. And there is no reason that we couldn’t insert those into humans. So you can imagine people having glowing tattoos or genetically engineer their own hair so that it’s bright blue without needing to use dye or all sorts of things like this.
Abby: I like the “chameleonware.” Do you think that is a possibility?
Ramez: We are getting there. People have been working on cloaking technology for quite a while. It is starting to look like it might be possible and certainly the military has a lot of interest in anything that can hide troupes or vehicles from radar and sensors and being seen visually.
Abby: The action scenes are realistic and very well written. Did you serve in the military?
Ramez: No not at all. I know what I like in action scenes and I like putting the reader right in the action.
Abby: With your background in technology I am curious to see how far you take technology. Do you live in a “Smart Home?”
Ramez: No I live in a 1950 home. It’s in Seattle. It’s a lovely place but it is definitely not the smartest building ever.
Abby: You feature monks in the story which makes me wonder if you are a Buddhist?
Ramez: I’m not a Buddhist but I find Buddhism fascinating. I’m a meditator. I’m not religious but Buddhism is probably the religion that I find most interesting. I am fascinated by the attitude of the Dalai Lama who really talks about Buddhism as a science and a technology. And meditation as a technique for steadying the mind. I have friends who are neuroscientists and who actually work studying the brains of experienced Buddhist monks that are experienced meditators. So I find that area just really interesting.
Abby: How does the Buddhist monk brain compare to an average person?
Ramez: We know that very experienced meditators can handle hunger much better. They have intense self control. They can handle extremes of heat or cold very well. They don’t need to sleep very much. They are very resilient to emotional shocks. They live a long time. So scientists have been trying to study their brains to see how it is that meditation has changed them to become these ways. So I think that, the meditation approach, basically mental exercise if you will, that is what meditation is. It’s complimentary to the scientific approach of studying the brain.
Abby: I might be considered a modern day luddite so the thought of mind control scares me. What worries or excites you about mind control?
Ramez: Oh it is a big worry. I think with every technology their are some down sides and some up sides and usually the up sides are bigger but a big question in technology in whether it will be a positive effect or a negative effect on society is who has control. If the control is widely spread, if everybody has access to the technology if individuals and families have control for their own purposes then it is usually a plus. But when you get centralization of a technology and only a few people have control over it that’s when it does negative things to society. And so the technology like Nexus that interfaces with the brain, who has control? Do individuals get to decide how to use it themselves? Or is it something where only the government or some villains are the ones that control the technology and that’s when it becomes a dystopia.
Abby: Do you think that people can read minds currently?
Ramez: No not currently. But with technology it may become possible.
Abby: Will there be a sequel to Nexus?
Ramez: There is. There is a sequel called Crux and it’s coming out in September, 2013.
Abby: I’m looking forward to it. Thank you Ramez for talking with me today.
Ramez: Thanks so much.
Abby: You can find Ramez Naan at https://twitter.com/ramez