When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., in March 2020, millions of people suddenly realized how much of their lives took place in virtual reality. If you already worked, shopped, socialized, and entertained yourself on screens, quarantine and lockdown were almost a formality. By the same token, the virus exposed the profound socio-economic division between people whose work requires manipulating physical objects—nurses, bus drivers, cashiers—and those who deal in symbols, whether visual, verbal, or monetary. The former had no choice but to expose themselves to the coronavirus, while the latter could stay safely at home—a class divide far more profound than white-collar vs. blue-collar had ever been.

These pandemic experiences started me thinking about the subject of my new book, The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without Us. Traditionally, when people referred to “the human condition,” they were thinking about all the limitations that go along with being a flesh-and-blood creature in three-dimensional space: labor and suffering, aging and death. Freedom from these limits was a dream that could only be realized in heaven, if there. But as technology becomes more powerful and takes over more of our lives, we are able to escape those limits to a degree that our ancestors could never have imagined.

For people who call themselves “transhumanists,” the natural next stage in this process is to liberate ourselves from the human condition completely, by ceasing to be Homo sapiens. Using technology that already exists or is just over the horizon—genetic engineering, nanorobotics, artificial intelligence—they believe we will be able to dispense with our fragile human bodies, maybe with physical existence altogether. Translated into a pattern of information, our minds will move from platform to platform, uploaded to the cloud or shooting across the galaxy in a beam of light. Today, these ideas are no longer the property of science fiction. They are taken seriously by physicists and philosophers and funded by billionaires such as Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. If the price for such a future is the disappearance of our species, transhumanists are more than happy to pay it.

In The Revolt Against Humanity, I examine transhumanist ideas and their moral and political implications. At the same time, I look at another school of thought, which I call “Anthropocene antihumanism.” Here, too, the coronavirus pandemic was an important turning point, causing many people to reflect on the inherent dangerousness of human progress. Whether the coronavirus originated in a bat or a lab, its worldwide spread was made possible by the globalization of trade and travel—the very things that have brought the human race unprecedented prosperity in the 21st century.

These ideas are no longer the property of science fiction. They are taken seriously by physicists and philosophers and funded by billionaires such as Peter Thiel and Elon Musk.

This is a paradox we are very familiar with from the stories of climate change and wildlife extinction that fill the news every day. The more humanity gets what it wants, the more damage it does to other species, to the planet, and, in the long run, to itself. An increasing number of people, especially the young and the highly educated, believe that the next few decades will see the doom of industrial civilization, even of Homo sapiens itself. Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist from Sweden, has channeled this anxiety, declaring at the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in 2019: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire eco-systems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.”

Ironically, then, people who love technology and people who hate it end up agreeing on one thing, that the human race is going to disappear soon, and this is a good thing.

In the year 2100, will Homo sapiens have ceded the earth to something newer and better, like A.I.—or something older and better, such as plants and animals? As with all such questions, it’s impossible to say; we can’t know the future until it arrives. But I’m convinced that the revolt against humanity is shaping up to be a very significant phenomenon, even if its prophecies never come true.

Should a powerful segment of humanity become convinced that we do not deserve to exist, the implications for politics, culture, and religion will be enormous, in ways I sketch out in The Revolt Against Humanity. Writing (or reading) a book may be an old-fashioned way of coming to grips with such a development, but it’s also a fitting one. After all, if humanity as we know it disappears, so will books—and vice versa.

Adam Kirsch, an editor for The Wall Street Journal’s weekend Review section, is the author of several books, including The Blessing and the Curse: The Jewish People and Their Books in the Twentieth Century. His latest, The Revolt Against Humanity: Imagining a Future Without Us, is out now from Columbia Global Reports