To Be a Machine

Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death

Mark O'Connell

Published: 30 March 2017
Trade Paperback, Demy PB
135x216mm, 256 pages
ISBN: 9781783781966


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?

About the author


‘[To Be a Machine] makes for as many laughs as genuine pauses for thought’ Jane Graham



‘[A] beautifully written book... lucid, brilliant and mordant... O'Connell is a very, very funny writer and he inserts himself Ronson-like into a series of absurd, ironic and alarming situations... By exposing the ludicrous yet terrifyingly serious ideologies behind transhumanism, To Be a Machine is an important book, as well as a seriously funny one’ James McConnachie

‘[A] brilliant work of non-fiction [...] To Be a Machine is an intriguing investigation into what it means to be a human being’ JP O'Malley

‘[A] travelogue-style exploration of transhumanism... To Be a Machine [...] is a conversational, approachable book... It's O'Connell's lack of stridency, as well as his often splendid writing, that makes him such a companionable guide’ Paul Laity

‘[O'Connell] dissects the practices and beliefs of transhumanism with extraordinary exuberance and wit... To Be a Machine is sometimes hilarious [...] but even as O'Connell mocks the more absurd manifestations of transhumanism he shows sympathy and understanding for its adherents’ Clive Cookson

To Be a Machine is properly amazing. It is stimulating, profound and indecently witty’ Paraic O'Donnell

‘A beautiful picture of a dazzling, dangerous thing... To Be a Machine is more poetic than polemic, and all the more powerful for it’ Alice Bloch

‘A brilliant book about humanity's quest for technological immortality [which] gets you rooting for the grim reaper... If the subject is inherently complex [...] [O'Connell] makes light work explaining it. He's also funny... Beneath it all, and what makes To Be a Machine such fascinating reading, is the interplay between urges that are at once incredibly forward-looking and undeniably primal’

‘A captivating work of investigative journalism, Louis Theroux-like in its delivery and very though provoking’

‘A really good book - very funny and well written... does a great job of exploring the motivations [of transhumanists]... Fascinating’

‘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

‘A wryly melancholy version of gonzo narrative nonfiction... think a more overtly erudite version of Jon Ronson... Engaging [...] and often disarmingly funny’

‘Bracingly intelligent and debonair... One of the joys of this book is O'Connell's near-faultless handling of tone, which ranges from the mock-pedantic to Amis-esque saltiness via DeLilli-esque pastiche... O'Connell excels at the tricky task of painting his subjects vividly while treating them fairly... By the end of the To Be a Machine I was still as convinced as when I began that I do not want to live out my days on a hard drive, but glad to have clarified exactly why I don't’ Jonathan Beckman

‘Engaging and at times very funny... O'Connell perceptively observes how transhumanism fits with Silicon Valley's worldview. Vivid, memorable, [...] and entertaining’ John Gray

‘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

‘Highly accessible... O'Connell mixes profundity with entertainment in a readable style’ William Hartston

‘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

‘If you're a fan of Jon Ronson and Don DeLillo, look no further: in To Be a Machine, Irish author Mark O'Connell traces his journey into a surreal cultish society of men who believe we will one day gain immortality and merge our minds with machines... A cerebral, witty joy’

‘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

‘Mark O'Connell [is] a writer with quite a way with words... he reports with a fluency and humour any novelist might envy... O'Connell, while meeting people as nutty as any encountered by Jon Ronson, never just plays it for laughs. Instead of ridiculing transhumanism as a parody of religion, he allows that it comes from the same perplexities, hopes and fears... A gem of a book’ David Sexton

‘Mark O'Connell brilliantly explores the growing number of people who want to transcend their "mortal flesh"... wonderful’ David Stevenson

‘O'Connell is an efficient host and curator, packing so much into a slim book that you might suspect some supernatural technology to be at work. This makes To Be a Machine essential reading on a subject you didn't know you needed to be worried about’ John Self

‘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

‘Original [and] elegantly written [with] nods to [...] Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux... An exceptionally fine book - witty, stimulating and gloriously non-mechanical... and often very funny’

‘Riveting, fascinating, comic and appalling... O'Connell is a charming guide on this tour through what may be the future of humanity, charming and perceptive... Read this disturbing, yet highly enjoyable, book. It will make you wonder what sort of world your child and grandchildren will inhabit’ Alan Massie

‘Staggeringly funny’ Brendan Byrne

‘This engaging gallop through the history and current state of play is a good preparation for making an informed choice as well as an entertaining, if at times unnerving, read’ Dominic Lenton

‘This Homer's Odyssey for the digital age spirits the reader through some of the most lurid reaches of technomania... This is a gentle, humorous and lovingly written book that is the best on its subject since Ed Regis's forgotten 1990 masterpiece Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhumanism Condition... A diverting anthropological study’ Oliver Moody

Mind Unit - websites, content management and email marketing for the arts