It’s a scifi novel which starts in the near-future with the first hints of computers augmenting man’s intelligence. The Singularity draws near as man becomes more integrated with machine – posthumans are born. Well, not born, more like evolved. Humans and intelligence change more rapidly than many can cope with.
The most fascinating idea from the book is that of cognitive forking (my phrase, not Stross’s): people can “fork” threads of their own consciousness to carry out tasks in parallel to their primary consciousness. When a forked thread of consciousness is done with its task it rejoins your primary consciousness and you instantly know whatever it learned. Want to research several things at once? Fork a thread for each task, wait a little while, and voilà! You’re smarter in 1/Nth the time than if you’d just had your primary consciousness.
The book also discusses what happens to people who are unwilling or unable to keep up with the ever-faster changes in technology and humanity:
“The faux-young boomers feel betrayed, forced back into the labor pool, but unable to cope with the implant-accelerated culture of the new millennium, their hard-earned experience rendered obsolete by deflationary time.”
“Capitalism doesn’t have a lot to say about workers whose skills are obsolete, other than that they should invest wisely while they’re earning and maybe retrain: but just knowing how to invest in Economics 2.0 is beyond an unaugmented human. You can’t retrain as a seagull, can you, and it’s quite as hard to retool for Economics 2.0.”
It is a GREAT book – one of the most original books I have ever read – highly recommended.
You can read the whole book online at Stross’s site.
I also recommend another book by Stross, Halting State.