What is the best book about transhumanism? My personal favorite is the book To be a Machineby the Irish author Mark O’Connel.
This is because the writer was able to give his own coloring to the story. It feels more like a journey past prominent figures in the movement where he sometimes brings out seemingly insignificant details or makes striking comparisons. A really fun read!
Mark O’Connel Interview
At the Brave New World conference 2018 in Leiden I held an interview with author Mark O’Connel who wrote the book To be a machine. We talk about his book, the most iconic characters in it and how he looks at transhumanism.
Two other books I really liked about this topic are Homo Deus and The Singularity is near.
2 Homo Deus
Another book that touches on transhumanism is Homo Deus by Israeli professor Yuval Noah Harari. According to him, it is irreversible that we want to improve our people and that we will eventually merge with machines.
According to him, the greatest danger lies in the dogma of humanism; that as a person we feel ourselves and know what is good for us. He warns that companies and governments with big data and artificial intelligence probably know better what we want and can therefore predict our behavior.
In the future we will therefore have the capabilities of a god. With scientific advancement, immortality and digital consciousness come into view. But Harari also describes the downside: does humanism still fit in here if companies can predict us better than ourselves using data?
I made a video with a summary and my 5 insights. Watch the video here or on my YouTube-channel:
3 The Singularity is Near
Silicon Valley messiah Ray Kurzweil (picture above) argues that singularity is near in his book The Singularity is Near. In the 21st century, artificial intelligence will transcend human intellect. In this book he substantiates his predictions and emphasizes that the transformation to an artificial life form is a logical step.
What is science fiction on this topic I would recommend?
Science fiction transhumanism
There is a good chance that far-reaching adaptation and improvement of people will take place in space. This is reflected in a number of stories. In the book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, various branches of the human race arise after genetic modification. This is one of my favorite science fiction book about transhumanism.
Numerous fiction books have been written about our future as human beings. At the time of writing this article, I’m reading the MaddAddam trilogy by MargaretAtwood. In the books, a deliberately planned biological disaster has almost completely destroyed mankind. In the stories, modifications to humans aren’t discussed that often, but the consequences of our modifications to animals, crops and the rest of the planet are.
The book Neuromancer by WilliamGibson is a compelling mix of technology and espionage. According to critics, this 1983 book describes the Internet for the first time. The author was ahead of his time with a story about hackers, artificial intelligence systems and the power of large corporations.
In a list of influential fiction on this subject, Brave New World is definitely one that needs to be mentioned. The book was written by Aldous Huxley in 1932 and describes a completely rationalized world. Both reproduction and education are artificial and all human aspects such as love, art and emotions have been banned from the world.
The book Zero K by DonLeLillo is about cryogenic suspension, a transhumanism technology. In the book the author plays with the concept of time. What role does time still have when you are in cryogenic suspension? Are you still human without the passage of time? Or maybe you are more human than ever?
Human enhancement book. What are the best books about human enhancement?
Books human enhancement
What is a good book about human enhancement? Human Enhancement is somewhat similar to transhumanism, but the difference is that human enhancement technologies are already being used (not like transhumanism technologies).
Here, you can find a list of the non-fiction books that I think are the best on this topic: Our Grandchildren Redesigned,Evolving Ourselves, and Ethics of Human Enhancement.
Our Grandchildren Redesigned
Historian and professor Michael Bess delved into the future of human enhancement. In addition to describing advances in science and technology, a strong point of this book is that he focuses on social, cultural and societal consequences of human enhancement. Link.
Humanity itself is the most powerful engine of human evolution. From rising obesity figures from fast food to changing our DNA with CRISPR / cas9. We are experiencing the biggest shift of our kind: from unnatural selection and random mutations to natural selection and accurate mutations. Short chapters with sometimes provocative statements. Link.
The book The Ethics of Human Enhancement (2016) consists of papers by leading scholars in human enhancement. The editors of this bundle are Steve Clarke, Julian Savulescu, C.A.J. Coady, Alberto Giubilini, and Sagar Sanyal. This book gets into the details of human enhancement ethics and arguments of proponents and opponents. Link.
But besides non-fiction, the concept of human enhancement also is the subject in many science fiction stories.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
Writing about human enhancement, I cannot help but mention the book Frankenstein from 1818. The book is considered to be one of the first books in the horror genre and the title of the book often makes it to the media. This also made into a couple of movies, like Mary Shelly (2017) in the picture above.
A nice observation is from author Annegreet van Bergen. In an interview in the Volkskrant, she points to the influence of the technology that emerged at the time: ‘Around the time Mary Shelley wrote the book, scholars had just started holding demonstrations with electric machines.’
Apparently, the crackling power surge inspired Mary Shelley to incorporate this into her novel. Because the essence of the story is that the Viennese doctor in training Victor Frankenstein sews a being from body parts of corpses and brings it to life with lightning.
The book Frankissstein is a contemporary successor to the original. In this novel by Jeanette Winterson, two story lines are intertwined, namely about gender fluidity and artificial intelligence [link at the bottom]. Funnily enough, the story starts in 1816 on Lake Geneva with what, according to tradition, was the inspiration for Mary Shelley to write her novel.
Dog human combination
A special novel is A Dog’s Heart by the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov from 1925. It is a story that is sometimes called pretty Frankenstein. It is about a professor who operates on a street dog, Sjarik. The professor gives the dog the testicles and pituitary gland of a criminal who died just before. The purpose of this experiment was to see if it leads to a rejuvenation of the animal.
However, this does not happen. The dog changes over time into a kind of person, but with the characteristics and traits of the previous owner.
I received this book as a gift from the organization of Talkshow De Idee, where I gave a lecture about human enhancement. It was a really good gift, because the book falls within the theme and because I would not buy it myself so quickly. I hadn’t read any Russian novels before this novel. I usually read some more recent science fiction books.
The gift was therefore a pleasant surprise. Although it is a small novel, it contains many layers. What does it mean to be human? Or animal? What happens if power falls into the wrong hands? In what kind of system are these kinds of experiments possible?
The last comment relates to the time in which the book was written. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the tsar was deposed and eventually replaced by a communist regime. In the book, Bulgakov subtly criticizes the political situation in his country at the time.
What is your favorite (science fiction) book on this topic? Leave a comment below!
Do you want to know more about transhumanism?
Please contact me if you have any questions! Like if you want to invite me to give a lecture, presentation or webinar at your company, at your congress, symposium or meeting.
Or if you want to book a session with me as an expert consultant on this area.
This section contains additional information: my presentation on the subject, a few videos and the list with all links.
Earlier I wrote the following articles on this theme: