Published: 30 March 2017
Trade Paperback, Demy PB
135x216mm, 256 pages
To Be a Machine
Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death
What is transhumanism?
Simply put, it is a movement whose aim is to use technology to fundamentally change the human condition, to improve our bodies and minds to the point where we become something other, and better, than the animals we are. It's a philosophy that, depending on how you look at it, can seem hopeful, or terrifying, or absurd. In To Be a Machine, Mark O'Connell presents us with the first full-length exploration of transhumanism: its philosophical and scientific roots, its key players and possible futures. From charismatic techies seeking to enhance the body to immortalists who believe in the possibility of 'solving' death; from computer programmers quietly re-designing the world to vast competitive robotics conventions; To Be a Machine is an Adventure in Wonderland for our time.
To Be a Machine paints a vivid portrait of an international movement driven by strange and frequently disturbing ideas and practices, but whose obsession with transcending human limitations can be seen as a kind of cultural microcosm, a radical intensification of our broader faith in the power of technology as an engine of human progress. It is a character study of human eccentricity, and a meditation on the immemorial desire to transcend the basic facts of our animal existence - a desire as primal as the oldest religions, a story as old as the earliest literary texts.
A stunning new non-fiction voice tackles an urgent question... what next for mankind?
‘To Be a Machine is properly amazing. It is stimulating, profound and indecently witty’ Paraic O'Donnell
‘A voyage into the dark heart of transhumanism, where dwell many hopeful mind-uploaders, robo-warfighters, subdermal implanters, doomed immortalists, and sundry aging Singularitarians. A funny, wise, and oddly moving book.’ Nicholson Baker
‘Full of sharp, funny insights into the human in transhumanism: whatever we may become, we haven't yet escaped what we are. This terrific book is as fascinating on how we live now as it is about our possible futures’ Richard Beard
‘If there's one thing scarier than the future, it's the people who are excited about the future. In this extraordinary, utterly vital book, Mark O'Connell documents his encounters with the engineers, apologists and avatars of mankind's imminent - or so they say - merging with machine. Unafraid to ask the big questions, and also the small ones, O'Connell, like some dream combination of Jon Ronson and Don Delillo, switches effortlessly from profound to poignant to laugh-out-loud funny. A brilliant illumination of the techno-future, To Be A Machine is also, and more importantly, a joyful summation of what it is to be human’ Paul Murray
‘In this hilarious and moving volume, Mark O'Connell interweaves his journalistic adventures among the transhumanists with his own thoughts about mortality and life experiences, starting with the birth of his son and ending, memorably, with a colonoscopy. The field of transhumanism and the individuals who populate it emerge as at once bizarre, compelling, and, ironically, deeply human, because what is more human than trying to overcome the limits of our bodies and mortality? Nothing! It's super-detailed and cosmic and minute and high-stakes and funny and sad, all at the same time.’ Elif Batuman
‘O'Connell voyages engagingly into cryonics, brain uploading, artificial superintelligence, four-digit lifespans, as he [...] reflects on the inherently finite nature of human existence. Provocative, funny and not a little gonzo, it's a great one to recommend to devotees of Jon Ronson’ Caroline Sanderson,
‘O'Connell's forensic investigation of the unnervingly fluid border between the human and the machine is elegant and gripping: at once a hilarious anthropological survey of the people who believe technology will give us eternal life and a terrifying account of how technology is changing the cardinal features of human existence’ Olivia Laing