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You’re Dead? No Problem

“Suspended” humans in Arizona

In a large warehouse next to the Scottsdale Airport in Arizona, 149 “patients” occupy large cylinders filled with liquid nitrogen. None are alive; some are just decapitated heads. Yet to adherents of the practice called transhumanism, they aren’t dead either, but “suspended” between life and death. When the technology becomes available, the thinking goes, they will, in some shape or form, come back to life. For $200,000, you can have your own body suspended there — or if you opt to have only your brain preserved, the cost is $80,000. The facility in Scottsdale, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, is one of three cryopreservation sites in the United States. (A fourth is in Russia.)

Transhumanism

What if technology could set us free from our own mortal bodies? If there were a way to expand our mental and physical beings beyond the limitations we were born with? If we could harness science to morph our flesh and bones into a machine-like state? In the transhumanist school of thought, these are not far out propositions. They are our future. To adherents of the practice called transhumanism, they aren’t dead either, but “suspended” between life and death.

Emancipation from biology

The history, plight, and future of transhumanism are examined in Mark O’Connell’s first book, “To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death.” O’Connell, a Slate book columnist and staff writer for the literary website The Millions, defines transhumanism as a “total emancipation from biology itself.” In this thoughtful and readable book, he aims to understand the motivations of those who are guided by the belief that technology will enable humans to transcend the human condition.

Humans as machines?

In an attempt to explore what it means to think of ourselves as machines, O’Connell takes readers on an all-encompassing tour, meeting artificial intelligence researchers, philosophers, brain-uploading scientists, roboticists with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and “grinders” (people who implant cybernetic devices into their own skin). He closes with his travels on “the immortality bus” with Zoltan Istvan, a transhumanist author and entrepreneur who ran for president in 2016 on the Transhumanist Party ticket. (He didn’t make a dent in the election, but he claimed that winning was not the point — he wanted to bring awareness to the concept of conquering death with technology, as he reported to Inverse). O’Connell touches on concepts like the singularity — the moment when artificial intelligenceArtificial Intelligence knows many different definitions, but in general it can be defined as a machine completing complex tasks intelligently, meaning that it mirrors human intelligence and evolves with time. surpasses human intelligence — along with mind uploading, life extension, and space colonization. He writes in an agreeable, conversational tone, offering his opinions, doubts, and fears along the way […]

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