In a wonderful ceremony held at the Wellcome Collection last night, Irish author Mark O’Connell was awarded the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize for his debut To Be a Machine: Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers and the futurists solving the modest problem of death. It is the first full-length exploration of transhumanism, a movement that seeks to cheat mortality and use technology for human evolution.
O’Connell was selected from a shortlist of six to win the prestigious £30,000 prize, which celebrates exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that illuminate the many ways that health and medicine touch our lives. Artist and writer Edmund de Waal OBE, Chair of Judges, made the announcement at the award ceremony at Wellcome Collection, London, praising To Be a Machine as a book that brings into focus timely issues about mortality, what it might mean to be a machine and what it truly means to be human.
To Be a Machine reflects a cultural obsession with futuristic dystopias, fuelled by TV series such as Westworld, Black Mirror and Altered Carbon. Likened to Jon Ronson, Don DeLillo and Louis Theroux, O’Connell goes further to explore the philosophy and science behind transhumanism, looking at current technological developments together with the opportunities and concerns for the future.
O’Connell presents hilarious and challenging insights into a movement that believes we must merge with machines to transcend our physical and intellectual capacities or risk becoming obsolete. He encounters the developers attempting to convert human minds into code, the self-proclaimed cyborgs inserting tech implants beneath their skin, and the human bodies cryogenically frozen in time on the promise of a future resurrection.
To Be a Machine takes the reader from the sublime to the ridiculous. It considers human fragility and our animal natures, as well as an obsession with immortality and technology’s potential to change the future for all of us.
Mark O’Connell (38, Dublin) is the second Irish author and second debut to take home the Wellcome Book Prize, following Suzanne O’Sullivan who was awarded the 2016 prize for her first book It’s All in Your Head.
Edmund de Waal, Chair of Judges, commented on behalf of the judging panel:
“To Be a Machine is a passionate, entertaining and cogent examination of those who would choose to live forever. Mark O’Connell brilliantly examines issues of technology and singularity. In doing so he brings into focus timely issues about mortality, what it might mean to be a machine and what it truly means to be human. This is a book that will start conversations and deepen debates. It is a wonderful winner of the Wellcome Book Prize.”
Therapist Sally Warren read and reviewed To Be a Machine for welldoing.org: read it here
The other titles shortlisted for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize were: Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix, Mayhem: A memoir by Sigrid Rausing and The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman. You can read our reviews here