Mark O’Connell 2017. To Be a Machine. London: Granta Publications, 241 pp.

This is a hatchet job by a journalist on the people working on various methods of achieving a non-human immortality. Most of these folk are soft targets due to being a little loopy and a lot unrealistic about the big gap between present understanding and achieving such technical feats. But Mark O’Connell is a lot more interested in sociological aspects, especially presenting pocket-sized biographies of the key figures.

Mark O’Connell is up front at the start that he is not on board with these futurist movements but he is also attempting to be a slightly even-handed journalist. Plus he is contradictory in his own attitudes. The flavour of the text is implicitly critical of the philosophical position shared by all such transhuman aspirants: that human mind and consciousness is a product of the physical brain and no more (ie there is no soul). Mark O’Connell seems to be critical of this rational approach which he deems “mechanistic” here and there. But if one accepts this position, as all sensible folk will, then most or all of the barriers to a very long-lived transhuman future dissolve. It is just a matter of when. Not in the next few decades, one would ahve to say, and so O’Connell easily criticises the current generation of aspiring futurists. But that doesn’t disqualify the whole field permanently.

The glowing testimonials on the back cover seem to cme from readers who have never given this topic any thought before. I didn’t get much from it, other than some useful further reading tips from the short list of references consulted. This was shorlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction 2017. I’m in no hurry to see the long list.