Episode 16: Transhumanism, Fiction, and Immortality

Ep16 Words To That Effect (Transhumanism)

Technology, the future, and transhumanism

This is an episode about who we are as humans. And, more importantly, where we are going. About a future in which technology and biology have merged in ways that are in equal part fascinating and terrifying. A future of unparalleled technological ingenuity, but one with deeply problematic ethical concerns.

It’s a future that sounds like science fiction because, in some ways, it is. But it’s a world that’s being designed right now.



What is Transhumanism?

Transhumanism is a social movement which aims to use technology to push out the boundaries of the human condition. It aims to move humanity beyond what we are today. It takes in a huge range of ideas: from the wildly speculative, like uploading our consciousness to computers, to the more low tech, like DIY tech implants and biohacking. It’s a movement which tries to transcend the human condition and, ultimately, to achieve radical life extension and immortality.

It’s also a movement which has been heavily influenced by a century of science fiction writing about these ideas: cryogenics, the technological singularity, virtual worlds, artificial intelligence, and more.

In this episode, I talk to Dr Mark O’Connell, author of To Be a Machine, a fascinating new book which explores the world of transhumanism. The book, as its subtitle outlines, is about O’Connell’s Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death.

I also chat to Dr Thomas Connolly, who helps situate the transhumanist movement in the context of a long history of science fiction writing.

We talk about genetically engineered mice, scifi dystopias, Silicon Valley, immortality, human consciousness, and quite a bit in between.



to be a machine Words To That Effect Ep 16 (transhumanism)Mark O’Connell is a Dublin based writer. He is a books columnist for Slate. His work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, The Observer, and The New Yorker. His bio is here.

You can find out more about To Be A Machine here


Thomas Connolly is an academic with a PhD in English from Maynooth University. His research examines the concept of the “human” in Anglo-American science fiction. His full bio can be found here.



Francesco Turrisi is a world-class jazz pianist and multi-instrumentalist based in Dublin. His website is here . You can also find his music on bandcamp and he is on Facebook here

Paddy Mulcahy is a hugely talented producer and composer from Limerick City. His music has featured on several episodes this season. His website is here


Works & Authors Mentioned

Terry Bisson: “They’re Made Out of Meat”


Donna Harraway: Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan Meets_OncoMouse

Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith

William Gibson: Neuromancer

Kevin Warwick

N Katherine Hayles




Looking for more science fiction? This episode is on Irish Science Fiction

Or this episode on Neurasthenia and nervous illnesses is a different look at how fiction and our bodies interact.


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