Jim Pierce, a soldier-turned-scientist, hasn't heard from his daughter Layla in years, not since she rejected his military past and started working as a hacker. But when a Chinese assassin shows up at Jim's lab looking for her, he knows that she's cracked a very serious military secret. Now her life is on the line if he doesn't find her first.
The secret is a Chinese government project called Supreme Harmony. In an effort to silence dissent, China's Ministry of State Security has developed a new surveillance system that uses swarms of cyborg insects — ordinary houseflies equipped with minuscule cameras and radio controls — to spy on dissident groups. [Real-life scientists are developing this technology for military reconnaissance.] To analyze the glut of video collected by the swarms, Chinese researchers lobotomize a group of condemned prisoners and insert electronic implants into their brains, turning them into a network of zombie-like "Modules" who are wirelessly linked to one another and to the swarms. But the project goes disastrously awry when the network develops its own intelligence, a collective consciousness that takes control of the Modules.
Acting covertly at first, the newly conscious network sets out to exterminate the human race by lobotomizing dozens of scientists and soldiers and incorporating them into Supreme Harmony. The Modules infiltrate the Chinese government and go to America as well. As Jim Pierce searches for his daughter, he realizes that he's up against something that isn't just a threat to her life, but to human life everywhere.
Luckily, Jim can fight the man-machine network because he's part-machine himself. Maimed by a terrorist bombing, Pierce wears an ultra-advanced prosthetic arm with impervious polyimide skin and high-torque motors that can punch through walls. With the help of Kirsten Chan, a brilliant and beautiful NSA intelligence agent, Jim goes to China and begins a desperate 1,500-mile journey to the laboratory where Supreme Harmony was born. To save humanity, Jim must fight the network on the ultimate battlefield — the virtual world of his own mind.
All the technologies described in Extinction are real. [The novel's author is a contributing editor at Scientific American, which has reported on the recent advances in brain-machine interfaces.] In one form or another, our machines will eventually replace us. Extinction tells the story of how it could happen tomorrow.