To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell. February 28, 2017. Doubleday, 256 p. ISBN: 9780385540414. Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.
Meet the visionaries, billionaires, professors, and programmers who are using groundbreaking technology to push the limits of the human body our senses, intelligence, and our lifespans
Once relegated to the fringes of society, transhumanism (the use of technology to enhance human intellectual and physical capability) is now poised to enter our cultural mainstream. It has found adherents in Silicon Valley billionaires Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. Google has entered the picture, establishing a bio-tech subsidiary aimed at solving the problem of aging.
In To Be a Machine, journalist Mark O’Connell takes a headlong dive into this burgeoning movement. He travels to the laboratories, conferences, and basements of today’s foremost transhumanists, where he’s presented with the staggering possibilities and moral quandaries of new technologies like mind uploading, artificial superintelligence, cryonics, and device implants.
A contributor to Slate, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine, O’Connell serves as a sharp and lively guide to the outer limits of technology in the twenty first century. In investigating what it means to be a machine, he offers a surprising, singular meditation on what it means to be human.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Alcohol
Booklist (December 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 7))
O’Connell, Slate’s book columnist and contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, the Observer, and the Independent, writes pensively on the growing movement of transhumanism, the use of technology to enhance human physical, mental, and intellectual developments. O’Connell investigates this movement through his travels across the globe, from San Francisco to London, to meet with transhumanists in their homes, conferences, informal gatherings, and labs. From device implants to human cyborgs, O’Connell weaves his journey together via a series of encounters and discussions with transhumanists. Readers will appreciate O’Connell’s sense of humor and his fast-paced writing, and will at times feel like they’re having a dialogue with the author as he ponders the ethics, consequences, and dilemmas of these transhumanist activities embedded in society today. Those who are interested in artificial intelligence, bioengineering, technology, and human development will find this book to be deeply engrossing and informative on the topic of transhumanism and what it means to be a human today and in the future.
Kirkus Reviews (December 15, 2016)
An enlightening tour of transhumanism, the movement dedicated to radically prolonging human life. In his first book, Slate book columnist and Millions staff writer O’Connell chronicles his travels around the world meeting and discussing transhumanism with the movement’s aficionados. The narrative is packed with eccentric characters, but none subscribe to the far more popular commercial life-extension industry that promises immediate results. On the contrary, transhumanists aim to achieve their goals through genuine technical advances, including implants, genetic modification, prostheses, mind-uploading, and biohacking. Those who feel they’ve been born too soon will perk up at O’Connell’s early chapter on Alcor, a cryopreservation facility where technicians will, for $200,000, carefully freeze your body upon death (just your head runs $80,000) and keep it until thawing, revival, and reconditioning become feasible options. Most governments and universities refuse to finance research aimed at immortality, but Silicon Valley billionaires, among others, are less inhibited. As such, O’Connell turns up plenty of freelancers with legitimate scientific backgrounds working on the problem as well as websites (Maxlife.org), organizations (Humanity Plus, described on its website as advocating “the ethical use of emerging technologies to enhance human capacities”), and even venture capital firms (Longevity Fund). Elderly readers may gnash their teeth, but others will have hope since many experts predict breakthroughs within decades. O’Connell does not claim to be impartial. He lets spokesmen have their say, explains their science for a lay audience, and does not conceal his amusement at wacky enthusiasts or his dismay at gruesome self-experiments. He also detours into robotics and artificial intelligence, which, once computers become smarter than humans, may render our perishable bodies irrelevant. Skeptics deliver thoughtful warnings, and O’Connell himself waxes hot and cold. An unsettling but informative and sometimes-optimistic view of mostly legitimate efforts at life extension.
About the Author
His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Observer, and The New Yorker‘s “Page-Turner”. He lives in Dublin.
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