The Human Machine: Episode 8

The Human Machine Reading List

Recommended reads on how bodies and technologies relate to one another

6 min read

A grid of human bodies augmented with technology, and technology that mimics human bodies and body parts.

This is the final episode of our Human Machine series, exploring the increasingly blurry lines between humans and technology. The other episodes are available here:

“¦and this is episode 8, the series conclusion.

There have been a few key recurring questions in everything we’ve looked at over the last few months, from sense hacking to birth control, prosthetics to gene editing. What is the point of a future that’s not accessible to everyone? If we feel the technology we rely on is changing us, can we trust that change?

After all, the revolution of today is the mundane of tomorrow. Our successors will find the moral panics around smartphones as quaint as we now think of 20th century moral panics over television. That isn’t to deny that technology changes us–just that humanity is endlessly adaptable, and we can find ourselves within a new normal with startling rapidity.

We will always be living part-biological, part-technological lives, because that’s what humans do. We invent, we adapt, we manipulate and adjust–and we try and understand those processes, to welcome or to fear them.


General Background


Sense Hacking


Connected Brains


Birth Control


Gene Editing

  • READ: Micheal Specter in The New Yorker details how researchers realized CRISPR allowed them to rewrite life [24-minute read]
  • PLAY: The New York Times has a quiz that explains just what is, and isn’t, within the realm of possibility with gene editing [4-minute play]
  • READ: As human embryo editing becomes a realistic possibility, scientists are more open about ethical concerns [5-minute read]
  • READ:The rise and fall and rise again of 23andme“, about the world’s largest private gene testing company [10-minute read]
  • WATCH: Dystopian sci-fi thriller Gattaca, which imagines a world of eugenics and open genetic discrimination:

Exoskeletons & Prosthetics


Everything Else


Personal Recommendations

Over the course of this series, we ran a Human Machine Reading Club via newsletter. (You can read the archives here.) Here are some final recommendations from its members:

  • Michael Condra says that The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America–about the radical social and cultural changes brought by the introduction of modern lighting–is one of his favorites.
  • Dante Kienigiel goes further and recommends the ten books of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, which “shows a possible scenario for our future, with stuff ranging from genetically modified “‘pan-humans’ to artificial superintelligence.” They generally can be read in any order, so start with The Player of Games.
  • Eli Lee says: “As an introduction to the history & context of the internet, and cyberculture, and digital utopianism (which I can’t help but still find fascinating), Fred Turner’s book From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, The Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism is amazing, and I still consider it one of the most thorough non-fiction books about, like, the pre-history of cyberculture around.”
  • Grayson Rudzinski points to Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Harari, for “exploring how the technology humanity wants (immortality, good health, peace, superhuman abilities, improved intelligence, etc etc) will, if successfully achieved, change the nature of humanity itself.”
  • Regular Next writer Corin Faife “highly recommends The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin for a great speculative exploration of how anarchism would play out on a planetary scale–it goes into lots of detail about how science and technological progress functions in such a world.”
  • Blake Hallinan “got a lot of joy out of Douglas Adams’ 1990 doc Hyperland”, where Adams falls asleep in front of the TV and dreams of new ways of consuming information. It predicts much of what the World Wide Web would eventually enable:

Plus, check out Gilles Deleuzes’ “Postscript on the Societies of Control“.

  • And David Jay recommends Dennis E Taylor’s Bobiverse series, “starting with We Are Legion (We Are Bob)–fantastic series and great understanding of what an upload of a human mind might mean.”

The rest of the Next team also had their own recommendations:


Read the previous episode: “The Human Machine of 2037

How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. The Human Machine is an eight-part series that interrogates the increasingly blurred lines between humans and machines.