Irish Research Council congratulates alumnus Mark O’Connell on winning the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize



Posted: 10 May, 2018

Irish Research Council alumnus Mark O’Connell was recently announced as the winner of the Wellcome Book Prize 2018.

Dr O’Connell was selected from a shortlist of six to win the prestigious award for his book To Be a Machine: Adventures among cyborgs, utopians, hackers and the futurists solving the modest problem of death. The book is an exploration of transhumanism – a movement that seeks to cheat mortality and use technology for human evolution – and chronicles his travels around the world to interview transhumanists.

The annual award – made by the Wellcome Trust and which carries a prize fund of £30,000 – is open to new works of fiction or non-fiction and eligible entries must have a central theme that engages with some aspect of how medicine, health or illness touch our lives.

Dr O’Connell was awarded an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship in 2008 and earned his PhD in English Literature from Trinity College Dublin for his work on the writing of John Banville.

Mark went on to secure an Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2011-12, also at Trinity College Dublin, where he furthered his studies of John Banville’s writing and taught contemporary literature.

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.”

In addition to winning the Wellcome Book Prize, the book was also shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Society Science Book Prize and the Baillie Gifford Prize.

Commenting on the announcement, Director of the Irish Research Council, Peter Brown said: “Winning this prestigious prize is a huge accomplishment, and the Council sends Mark our congratulations. This book will encourage and cultivate our thinking about technology that seeks to re-draw the boundaries between life and death. The work deserves a wide audience.

 “At the core of the Council mission is to provide opportunities for exceptional individuals to pursue their specific research ideas within any discipline, and Mark is an excellent example of this. The Council is delighted to have supported him as an early-career researcher. His work also shows how the humanities have a vital role to play in scientific research and debate. We wish Mark well in his future endeavours.”