I was on vacation last week and took some of the time on flights to read Nexus by Ramez Naam. It’s a sci-fi book that explores the intersection of computers and the brain and how they could meld together in the future.
I typically only review books on this blog that I emphatically endorse. I generally don’t think there’s any point in blogging about a book that I didn’t like; it doesn’t help anyone to do so. I’m blogging about Nexus because I definitely recommend it for a particular person/audience, but it’s not for everyone. And I personally enjoyed it quite a bit.
First, the good: it’s a compelling vision of the day-after-tomorrow in bio-hacking. Today, as wearable computing continues to increase in popularity, it’s very intuitive to see how the devices that currently sit on our body will eventually start to be embedded into our bodies. Naam takes this through process to its logical conclusion, as the brain becomes the silicon-replacement medium for computation. Since the brain already has the ability to process information, the key insight that Naam explores is the I/O necessary to read/write info to/from the brain. Once that scientific piece is unlocked, many of Naam’s fictional explorations in this book ooze the essential verrisimilitude that makes sci-fi sing with familiarity.
The bad: this book is not well-written. It’s not all bad: the writing is at its best in the scientific accuracy and the action scenes’ detail. I really like the parts where Naam describes what it’s like to research and explore a new frontier, with all the dead ends and promising threads. The problems emerge in things like cliche characters, predictable metaphor usage, and one particularly bad sex scene. Just don’t read this book after reading any of the “greats” of contemporary fiction like Chabon or Franzen. They make this book look like the material of a college fiction seminar.
So, if you’re excited by the ideas of what hacking your own body could become, I highly recommend Nexus.
What’s the difference between sushi and cold dead fish? Positioning.
I am generally pretty bad at using positioning effectively. It’s something I am continually working to improve. I often find myself thinking there is one objective truth, and any form of spin on that truth is incorrect and unethical. I think this stems from my overly logical recovering programmer frame of reference.
Every time I detect spin in some article designed to pursuade my opinion, I think of Joe Friday retorting “Just the facts, ma’am.” (which apparently never happened)
But that black and white line of thinking is exactly why I’m not great at positioning. “Sushi” and “cold dead fish” are both the objective truth, one is simply positioned more attractively than the other.
For years now, when people ask me, “How do you consume your news?” my answer has consistently been, “Twitter reads the news to me.”
Who Will Fight for Your Digital Rights
EFF did a great summary of all the major web services and their policies regarding fighting for your digital rights. It’s filled with great “did you know” tidbits. For example, did you know that if the government requests your Amazon purchase history, Amazon will not notify you about the request? (!)
I’d love to see a modern-day SiteAdvisor that helps me navigate my digital rights. SiteAdvisor was a service founded by Chris Dixon that was a browser extension that told you whether or not you were about to visit a dangerous site (this is back before Chrome and FF baked this functionality directly into their browsers… in fact, Chrome didn’t even exist at the time). While I appreciate the protection from malware, I feel like data privacy is an equally pressing problem. I wish that my web browser would warn me before trusting a service with my data, if that service is likely to sell me out down the road.
For now, simply being armed with this knowledge is good… but if I knew this information at the moment that it matters most (when I’m considering signing up for a service) that would be even better.
An ex-politician seeking re-election has asked to have links to an article about his behaviour in office removed.
A man convicted of possessing child abuse images has requested links to pages about his conviction to be wiped.
As a follow-up to my blog post today, here is two examples of the “forget me” requests Google has received thus far. There is no doubt to me that Google is being asked to make its product worse for end-consumers.