If your memory has ever let you down, you wished you were stronger or could run faster, then you might share the dreams of transhumanists who believe we can and should use technology to control the future evolution of our species.
O’Connell visits and interviews cryogenisists preserving brains and bodies in the hope of later reconstitution, those who think it should be possible to download the contents of a brain into a computer, engineers working on cyborg-type additions, robotics builders angsting about anthropomorphism, and biologists working towards improving us by genetic engineering.
With gentle scepticism, he exposes extraordinary optimism, dubious morality and sometimes worrying psychology among the transhumanist tribe. In other chapters, he tackles the singularity concept – that a point will come when AI-based systems take over from us, the obsession with prolonging life and evading death and the relationship of these to religion. While the author’s doubts resonate, it may be well to remember the difficulty in predicting the future.
This book is an acute observation of the current state of play; will we still be around to find out whether the transhumanists have a point?
To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell is published by Granta. Paperback and e-book are both £9.99.