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Technology Planning and Analysis

Zoltan Istvan: Science & tech could eliminate death by 2030

Transhumanism is the movement which literally seeks to enhance the human condition through science and technology. Fundamentally it aims to eliminate human death and followers believe this is possible within the next 15–20 years. Next year Zoltan Istvan plans to stand for US presidency to raise awareness for this philosophy. We catch-up with him to discover more.

I know your stand for presidency is more to raise awareness for the movement than anything else. However, if you were to get in what would your practical policies be? 

In addition to upholding American values, prosperity, and security, the three primary things I would do if I became president are:

1) Attempt to do everything possible to make it so America’s amazing scientists and technologists have resources to overcome human death and aging within 15-20 years--a goal an increasing number of leading scientist think is reachable.

2) Create a cultural mind-set in America that embracing and producing radical technology and science is in the best interest of our nation and species.

3) Create national and global safeguards and programs that protect people against abusive technology and other possible planetary perils we might face as we transition into the transhumanist era. 

What needs to change to forge the necessary mind-set to promote transhumanism in America?

I think the biggest hang-up of Americans embracing transhumanism is the culture of “death” we seem to have in the States. America is largely religious, and believes in a glorious afterlife. Most transhumanists don’t believe in afterlives, so their primary goal is often creating science to overcome biological death. Americans don't think this way because we’ve been taught that death is a permanent phenomenon we can’t overcome. But in the 21st century, we can truly change this. We can make it so science and technology eliminate human death. But it’s hard when so many Americans are apathetic about dying.

What do you think is the biggest benefit to mankind of the transhumanist movement?

I think the biggest benefit by far is increased well-being from technology. Transhumanism aims to eliminate suffering and death with science. It’s hard to argue against this in any way. Transhumanists simply want the world’s people to be healthier, to live longer, and to live better. That way families and loved ones can stay together for much, much longer periods of time with far less hardship in life. 

Is putting the necessary structure in place to make transhumanism safe, ethical and workable in times of rapid change, your biggest obstacle?

It could very well be. I’m constantly amazed at how far technology and bioethics is lagging behind technological development. We might have a super-intelligent AI here in 10-15 years, and there’s not even a regulatory body thinking about that yet, even though it might change the political dynamics of the planet in days. Whichever government gets access to an AI first might be able to quickly hack into every nuclear arsenal in the world. So yes, it is critical transhumanists put in structure for society to handle rapidly advancing technology.

Some naysayers may suggest that your Transhumanist Declaration blends common sense ambition with ideas that do not seem practically possible, what would you have to say to that?

I think if people look around what is happening in the 21st century — mind controlled bionic arms, driverless cars, exoskeleton suits, robotic hearts — then new technology really is changing the world. And it’s changing it quickly. So the common sense ideas in the Transhumanist Declaration are quite accurate and helpful for society at large, I think.

What kind of reaction have you received to your plans (for presidency and otherwise) so far?

The reaction has been really great, so far. In the last few years, everyone around the world has taken a step back and thought: Wow, technology is advancing really, really quickly. And most people feel that is great, but people are also wary of it. They don't know exactly how to deal with so much change so quickly. And that’s where my Presidential candidacy has been inspiring people. There’s finally a political party — The Transhumanist Party — that is already trying to figure out the best and safest path forward. We are pro-technology, but we are also cautious and don’t want to upset the progress the world has made. My candidacy has, hopefully, given people peace of mind that there are people out there dedicating themselves to this massive shift occurring to the human race.

What resistance have you had from religious groups?

I've had quite a bit of resistance from religious groups. I get my share of hate email and tweets, especially regarding the idea that transhumanists aim to conquer biological death. Many religious people insist we must die in order to get to heaven. The Transhumanist Party welcomes religious people to join us, and we don’t say people never have to die. We simply want people to have the choice “when” they die, if at all. But fundamental religious people don’t like our open-mindedness and our desire to improve upon the sacred human body. They see us as acting as “gods” and that troubles them from a religious perspective. 

Although the benefits of technology and improved healthcare do always trickle down through the rungs of society, surely a lot of your ambitions to augment humanity are still the preserve of a very wealth minority?

I personally have little interest in preserving a very wealthy minority. I'm not super wealthy myself so my interest lies in protecting society as a whole.  That said, I'm also encouraged by the new breed of the super wealthy. I sincerely believe the Mark Zuckerburgs, Elon Musks, and Bill Gates of the world want to help all people. They are not the barons of the 20th century, forcing child labour and operating under social Darwinian policies. The new breed of super wealthy are better human beings, and I believe they care about the world as a whole, and they will insist their technologies make it to every corner of the planet for the benefit of all. I see a much more egalitarian society arriving in the next 25 years as technology spreads further. 

Surely everyone in the West is a wealthy minority compared to those in emerging regions? How will all this really impact people who can barely scrape a living in some parts of the world?

The great thing about technology is that it often becomes quite affordable over time. For example, even some of the poorest people in the world — such as some people living in mud hut villages in Africa — have cell phones. And many of the poorest nations now have major vaccine programs — including for street children. These are transhumanist technologies, and they’re being found all over the world, regardless of wealth. I’m hopeful that as technology makes the developed world wealthier, more technology and science will make its way around the world to those who are living in poverty.  

One of your main aims is to “conquer” aging in the next couple of decades, with vastly extended lifespans, do you think boredom could prove a problem for humanity?

It’s funny, I hear this “boredom” worry a lot when talking about extended longevity. Personally, I think the more powerful human beings get because of science and technology, the more complex and fast-paced our lives will get. In the virtual world, where we are all heading in 30 years, there will be unimaginable things to do, to experience.  I believe we will look back at 2015 and say: Now 2015 was boring compared to 2045. And of course, the entire space age is just getting started where we can explore our physical universe. I think the species will never get bored the further into the transhumanist age we get.

All your varied ambitions such as, making college mandatory and free for everyone and bringing the necessary resources to pioneering scientists, sound quite expensive to achieve. Could this all really be paid for by cutting defence spending?

Defence spending accounts for about 20% of the US budget. It’s massive compared to other things, like science and education. My advisors and I absolutely think we could take quite a bit from defence and pay for many other things. The key here is to understand that education is going to make us much more money in the long run, as we won't have so many people on welfare or so many people doing only rudimentary jobs. They will, instead, be engineers, scientists, educators, and technologists. If we invest now, we could reap the rewards in a decade’s time. Additionally, there’s public safety issues to consider. A well-educated public means less resources are needed on public safety, since education generally equals higher wealth, and higher wealth equals less crime. The entire system should be revamped, with education leading at the forefront. Instead of a massive defence industrial complex, we could build an industrial complex centred around education and science. In this way, everybody wins.

In Wired last Summer you tentatively argued that licenses should be required to restrict human breeding. I know the thinking behind this was to achieve a higher standard of living, however, do you think the resulting incredibly skewed population would not just intensify the cache attached to genuine youth? This could have a number of consequences from the targeted sexual exploitation of the genuinely young, to the clear psychological ramifications in the biologically enhanced old?

In my political campaign, I’m distancing myself from that licensing concept. While I support it personally, it’s just too thorny of a topic to try to put forth a politician. My main reason for writing that philosophical article was to highlight the fact that 10,000 starving kids dying daily from malnutrition is simply unacceptable in the 21st century. And as a humanitarian species, we must do more. And that includes debating ideas like my article. Nobody wants to take away freedoms of anyone, but at the same time, we must be open to considering how to avoid having nearly 75 million kids starve to death over the next 30 years.  My hope was that my article would get others thinking about progressive ways that we might solve the overpopulation and environmental problems, and the child poverty and starvation issues.   

You have plans to tour California on a bus with six foot robots, can you tell me more?

I wish I could tell you more, but it’s a bit secretive for another few months. I can tell you it will involve theatrical things, and be like nothing many people have seen before. We’re also going to aim to have lots of fun with it, and make stops as many universities. We hope to begin by July on the West Coast, when I’m starting to arrange the first speaking engagements.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

One of our main goals of the transhumanism movement is to broaden outwards. We are actively trying to include the disabled community in both the movement and my presidential campaign. There are millions of disabled people in America. Transhumanism is something that can directly help them. We are working on exoskeleton suits to get wheelchair bound people walking. We are working on bionic eyes so the blind can see again. We are working on artificial limbs controlled by the mind to help amputees out. Transhumanism wants to eliminate disability on planet earth and make everyone able bodied again. We want all of humanity to be able to reach their full potential.

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