To Be a Machine isn't written as an insider-baseball account of transhumanism; instead, it's framed as an investigation. With a winning mix of awestruck fascination and well-chilled skepticism, he tracks down various high-profile transhumanists on their own turf, immerses himself in their worlds, and delivers dispatches — wryly humorous, cogently insightful — that breathe life into this almost mystical circle of thinkers and doers ... Not only does O'Connell apply a healthy curiosity to his subjects, he places them in illuminating context. Amid vivid firsthand reportage, he dwells on the history and ramifications of transhumanism: economically, anthropologically, sociologically, theologically and culturally ... Rather than a dry treatise on science, To Be a Machine is a lucid, soulful pilgrimage into the heart of what humanity means to us now — and how science may redefine it tomorrow, for better and for worse.
...O'Connell's book is at its best when he's rendering funny and sympathetic portraits of the would-be immortals and other quasi-religious oddballs he met and spent time with in the US and Europe ... O'Connell is a charming, funny tour guide. Writing on transhumanism often gets swept away by the inherent drama of its adherents' promises, but O'Connell's eye for small human details keeps the narrative grounded in a way that rigorous scientific debunking wouldn't ... If I have a complaint about O'Connell's book, it's that it doesn't turn its eye often enough toward money.
O’Connell is less interested in evaluating technology than in the people who make it and its philosophical implications. As he places the quest for immortality under the microscope, he follows the individuals—tech visionaries, billionaires, and futurists—who are trying to eradicate, or dramatically postpone, death ... If the average human life were to span 100 healthy years, then society, the economy, and the environment would be drastically transformed. How long would childhood last? What would the political landscape look like if baby boomers were able to vote for another 50 years? O’Connell’s foray into transhumanism comes at a moment when our democratic institutions look weaker than ever ... O’Connell finds it odd, too, that 'billionaire entrepreneurs' are more interested in developing AI than in eradicating “grotesque income inequality in their own country.” Of course, experimentation is essential to progress, and researchers claim their work will benefit all of humanity in the future. But it raises the question: What future and for whom?