London Futurists

Peter James, best-selling crime-writer and transhumanist

February 15, 2023 London Futurists Season 1 Episode 26
London Futurists
Peter James, best-selling crime-writer and transhumanist
Show Notes

Peter James is one of the world’s most successful crime writers. His "Roy Grace" series, about a detective in Brighton, England, near where Peter lives, has produced a remarkable 19 consecutive Sunday Times Number One bestsellers. His legions of devoted fans await each new release eagerly. The books have been televised, with the third series of "Grace", starting John Simm, being commissioned for next year.

Peter has worked in other genres too, having written 36 novels altogether. When Calum first met Peter in the mid-1990s, Peter's science fiction novel “Host” was generating rave reviews. It was the world’s first electronically published novel, and a copy of its floppy disc version is on display in London’s Science Museum.

Peter is also a self-confessed petrol-head, with an enviable collection of classic cars, and a pretty successful track record of racing some of them. The discussion later in the episode addresses the likely arrival of self-driving cars. But we start with the possibility of mind uploading, which is the subject of “Host”.

Selected follow-up reading:

Topics in this conversation include:

*) Peter's passion for the future
*) The transformative effect of the 1990 book "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition"
*) A Christmas sojourn at MIT and encounters with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky
*) The origins of the ideas behind "Host"
*) Meeting Alcor, the cryonics organisation, in Riverside California
*) How cryonics has evolved over the decades
*) "The first person to live to 200 has already been born"
*) Quick summaries of previous London Futurists Podcast episodes featuring Aubrey de Grey and Andrew Steele
*) The case for doing better than nature
*) Peter's novel "Perfect People" and the theme of "designer babies"
*) Possible improvements in the human condition from genetic editing
*) The risk of a future "genetic underclass"
*) Technology divides often don't last: consider the "fridge divide" and the "smartphone divide"
*) Calum's novel "Pandora's Brain"
*) Why Peter is comfortable with the label "transhumanist"
*) Various ways of reading (many) more books
*) A thought experiment involving a healthy 99 year old
*) If people lived a lot longer, we might take better care of our planet
*) Peter's views on technology assisting writers
*) Strengths and weaknesses of present-day ChatGPT as a writer
*) Prospects for transhumans to explore space
*) The "bunker experiments" into the circadian cycle, which suggest that humans naturally revert to a daily cycle closer to 26 hours than 24 hours
*) Possible answers to Fermi's question about lack of any sign of alien civilisations
*) Reflections on "The Pale Blue Dot of Earth" (originally by Carl Sagan)
*) The likelihood of incredible surprises in the next few decades
*) Pros and cons of humans driving on public roads (especially when drivers are using mobile phones)
*) Legal and ethical issues arising from autonomous cars
*) Exponential change often involves a frustrating slow phase before fast breakthroughs
*) Anticipating the experience of driving inside immersive virtual reality
*) The tragic background to Peter's book "Possession"
*) A concluding message from the science fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut

Music: Spike Protein, by Koi Discovery, available under CC0 1.0 Public Domain Declaration