Peter James: Best-Selling Author And Transhumanist
Crime and Science Fiction
Peter James is one of the most successful crime writers in the world. His Roy Grace series about a detective in Brighton, England, has garnered 19 consecutive Sunday Times bestsellers. His legions of devoted fans eagerly await each new release, but most of them probably don’t know that James is also a transhumanist.
James has written a total of 36 novels across multiple genres including science fiction. His novel Host is about uploading thoughts, and fittingly it was the world’s first electronically published novel – a copy of his diskette version is on display at London’s Science Museum. James joined the London Futurists Podcast to talk about his interest in the future.
As a boy, James had no aptitude for science, but his best friend from school won a scholarship to MIT, and James spent Christmas 1970 there To beat Grandmasters would have to be many times larger than Earth and would require more programmers than the entire human population at the time.
Still, James began to wonder what miracles would become possible as computers became more powerful. Among other things, he wondered if it would be possible to create a copy of a human mind in a machine. A few decades later, Ed Regis’ 1990 book Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition inspired him to write his first science fiction novel.
support our thoughts
While researching “Host,” James visited Alcor, the cryonics company that was based in California at the time. They charged $125,000 for full body storage and $50,000 for head storage. James refused to be persuaded to sign up as they had a number of unresolved issues. One was the formation of ice crystals in his brain when his temperature was lowered and another was that there was no legal way to leave yourself money in a will.
Alcor firmly believes it has since resolved these issues by using glazing to replace freezing and using trust funds to ensure the preservation of financial assets. But James is also not convinced that future scientists will bother to revive all frozen humans. If we could revive an Egyptian mummy, would we revive all the mummies in all the museums in the world? Could the ancient Egyptians survive the shock of being resurrected in such a dramatically changed world?
More optimistically, James hopes that aging will be resolved in the fairly near future, and thinks the first human to live to be 200 has likely already been born.
In addition to uploading thoughts to Host, James has explored genetic engineering in his book Perfect People, which is about a young couple who lost a child to a genetic disease when they were four years old. They’re exploring ways to ensure their future children are healthy, but they’re under intense pressure to go further and choose favorable traits from a menu of 2,800 options, including ball-playing skills, different types of intelligence, levels of empathy, and so on. All they want is for their child to be healthy, but they are warned not to disadvantage their children by not selecting their genes for favorable traits, and condemn them to belonging to a genetic underclass.
Having explored how technology will affect us in the years and decades to come, James is happy to be called a transhumanist, which equates to the belief that humans should be allowed to enhance our physical and cognitive abilities. Many people are uncomfortable with this notion and instead believe that we should stick to what is “natural” when we have gone way beyond that with glasses, false teeth, penicillin and so on. He is particularly pleased about the possibility of downloading a book into his memory in a few moments: his reading deficit is long.
He also advocates radical life extension, an idea that’s surprisingly unpopular but necessary to keep up with scientific and cultural advances. One of our biggest problems as a species is that we don’t live long enough to learn the lessons of the past. Aristotle was said to be the last man able to read every book ever written and Copernicus was perhaps the last man able to read everything written during his lifetime. Most of us reach only a rudimentary kind of maturity before death. If we all lived much longer, we would probably take better care of our planet and stop arguing about whose imaginary friend is the best.
While James is tech-savvy in principle and in practice, he hasn’t experimented with generative AI systems to help him write. He doesn’t doubt that AIs will one day write great books, but they’re not there yet. Idiosyncratic human perspectives are essential to great writing.
origin and meaning
Another subject that fascinates James is space exploration. He expects that future humans will spread across our galaxy and that they will find many other intelligent beings out there. In fact, he thinks that we might come from somewhere else ourselves. He is fascinated by a series of experiments done a few decades ago that showed our natural circadian rhythm is longer than 24 hours. Without clocks and information about the course of the sun, people are beginning to organize their lives according to 25-hour days.
If we ever find an answer to where we came from, it might help us figure out why we’re here. Meanwhile, James delights in the conclusion of Kurt Vonnegut, one of his favorite science fiction writers: “We were put on this earth to fart around and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
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