To be a Machine
O'Connell (Mark)
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Amazon Book Description

  1. What is transhumanism1? 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.
  2. In To Be a Machine, Mark O'Connell presents us with the first full-length exploration of transhumanism2: 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.
  3. 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?

Amazon Customer Review 1
  1. This book is about a posthuman future; that is it examines the ideas behind transhumanism3. Some of these ideas are simply daft while others are already on the horizon. The author has written an important book and a funny one.
  2. In this account the sinister lies alongside the very funny. We are told about the work of Max More in Arizona who looks after dead people awaiting resurrection, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, AI and the dangers this poses, the Machine Intelligence4 Research Institute and the neuroscience of brain-machine interfaces. Billions are being spent on these activities. Why?
  3. The answer put forward is that it will one day enable us to be free from our flesh. The latter we are told is a dead format as we are only the data in our brains. So who needs a body? The author covers an extraordinary number of zealots who are working away on uploading5 the mundane creating AI. What they are doing is exciting but also dangerous.
  4. Some of what O'Connell tells us is mad. The jargon is suffocating. Try 'longevity escape velocity' for starters. Thank goodness there are some sane people like Miguel Nicolelis, a Professor from Brazil who describes some of the research as stupid. As he says, brains cannot be 'simulated free of biology'. The body is our intelligence6. The notion that we can run our personality software on platforms that dispense with our flesh is bizarre and frankly mad.
  5. A book that tells us things we need to know but it is a disturbing tale even if at times its absurdity makes you laugh.
    → Dr. Barry Clayton

Amazon Customer Review 2
  1. A compelling and witty exploration of our latest technological futuristic fantasies, dreamed by the new doctrinaires and visionaries of Transhumanism7. This new broad church, with its faith center in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area in California, proclaims its obsessive belief in the power of technology to transform the human condition. It is fueled by a quasi-religious longing to transcend the constraints of biology on our terrestrial embodied life. Its ultimate aim is to free us from the physical and mental limitations that burden us during our brief existence on the planet. To create technologies enabling the transfer of an individual personality to a more advanced non-biological carrier, the creation of avatars, artificial humanoid bodies controlled through brain-machine interface.
  2. In his quest to grasp the sensational claims of this bizarre scientific faith , the author meets all sorts of weird zealots; artificial intelligence8 prophets and techno utopian entrepreneurs, who aim at overcoming not only the problems of human frailty but of ageing and mortality as well . Technologies they dream of include cryonic suspension of dead bodies for future reanimation9, mapping and uploading10 of minds into computers, implanting enhancing prostheses into human bodies. Their constant yearning for an augmentation of human capabilities, for developing the perfect cyborg11 liberated from the prison of the body or for achieving surrogate immortality through machines, leads them to the ultimate absurdity of a desire to be transformed into pure minds or preferably a code in order to consume the entire universe by embracing its immensity and return into the void.
  3. The author oscillates between suspended disbelief and sardonic hilarity at the foundations of the transhumanist12 culture. He takes intermittent pauses with philosophical musings about the older notions that resonate with transhumanism13; the age old folly expressed in the Promethean dream to become gods or the long standing anti body resentment and rejection of corporeity by the early Christian Gnostics as well as in Hinduism and Buddhism, or the reductionist philosophies of the body as machine, first articulated by Descartes and Helvetius. There is a lot more to this book than a well-informed exploration of modern transhumanism14. It deserves wide readership for the hilarious insights into our techno utopian dreams and its serious meditation on the interface between technology and humans in our own age.

  1. System Crash – 1
  2. An Encounter – 10
  3. A Visitation – 22
  4. Once Out of Nature – 42
  5. A Short Note on the Singularity15 – 70
  6. Talkin’ AI Existential Risk Blues – 77
  7. A Short Note on the First Robots – 104
  8. Mere Machines – 108
  9. Biology and Its Discontents – 134
  10. Faith – 160
  11. Please Solve Death – 179
  12. The Wanderlodge of Eternal Life – 194
  13. A Short Note on Endings and Beginnings – 230
  14. Acknowledgments – 237
  15. A Partial List of Works Consulted – 239

  • Sub-title: "Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death".
  • Granta Books (30 Mar. 2017)

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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