Martin: Hi, I’m Martin Shervington, I’m super excited to be here and joined by Zoltan Istvan who is running for President of the USA this year for the Transhumanist Party. We connected on Google+, Peter Felton is here as well. This is a wonderful opportunity to firstly welcome Zoltan a bit more into the community and to connect people up with him – you’re on the main screen now, Zoltan. You know, I’m a geek in this area so it’s a delight for me, thanks for spending the time. Could you give us a quick background of who you are and what you’ve done to date.
Zoltan: Sure, as you mentioned, my name is Zoltan Istvan, I’m an American, even though I have a Hungarian name. I am currently running for the US Presidential position under the Transhumanist Party which is a newly formed political entity that is aiming to put health, technology and science at the forefront of American politics.
We tackle very thorny issues. I’m also a writer, I’ve been an inventor and an entrepreneur, I think mostly I’m a futurist and there are a lot of discussions, speeches and articles on futurist topics but transhumanism is certainly my specialty.
Martin: Awesome! Let’s start with the basics. What is Transhumanism?
Zoltan: Sure! Transhumanism is an international social movement that is trying to use science and technology to radically improve and radically modify the human being and the human experience but, more importantly, Latin-wise, transhuman means beyond human so most transhumanists are just trying to use technology to leave behind whatever it means to be human: their biological selves, disease, suffering and especially death. I think the number one goal of transhumanism is to try to be overturn mortality.
Martin: We have companies like Google who are investing in firms whose aim is to provide what we need for life extension programs etc, and people are into this, you’re not only one man, you have a lot of support, because they can see this is a movement.
Zoltan: Absolutely! It’s a massive movement at this point. Even a few years ago it was considerably smaller, but what’s happening is that there’s so much media surrounding life extension and technology in general to improve the human being.
You’re talking bionic hearts, artificial limbs, exoskeleton suits, bionic eyes, mind-reading headsets, you don’t even have to talk and something can read just your brain waves. So, transhumanism has come of age in the last 2 years and all of the sudden, everyone around the world is paying attention to it.
You have a younger generation who loves it because of virtual reality and because of all the apps on their phones, even older generation that loves it because it’s enabling them to live for longer and then you have everyone in general saying, this is pretty bizarre stuff, it’s very exciting stuff as well.
Martin: We love it. So, you’re running for President, how has it been received? We tapped on this just before, what is happening?
Zoltan: Certain parts of the country are receiving it not so well. I think the main thing to remember about America is that it’s about 75-80% Christian and Christianity says that you’ll meet God in the Afterlife if you’re a good person. Transhumanists aren’t mostly worried about the afterlife, they’re trying to make the most of this life and most transhumanists don’t really want to die.
It doesn’t mean they want to live forever, but they want the power over death so they tend to not be a very religious group and one of the center issues of my campaign and the Transhumanist Party is that there is a religious confrontation occurring. So I’ve had my share of hate mail, I’ve had my share of death threats and stuff like that.
Transhumanism does welcome all religions, the Transhumanist Party is open to all religions, there is a Christian transhumanist association as well, so I’m trying to minimize the conflict but parts of the middle America, who are fundamentally religious have found my campaign not only upsetting but, as I said, giving death threats on Twitter and stuff like that saying, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. On the west and east coast I think it’s been received really well, we’ve gotten some broad attention, I’m pretty excited about how big the Transhumanist Party has grown.
I just see your viewers now. There are now approximately 25 national transhumanist parties around the world. Germany has one, England has one, Australia, brazil, we’re represented on 5 continents so it’s not just America that has a transhumanis party. I the last months we have spread internationally and there is a huge amount of people joining very quickly.
Martin: So, what are your influences, Zoltan?
Zoltan: I try not to have any influences, I think I built my career upon my novel, The Transhumanist Wager, which is very authoritarian, it’s not necessarily my personality but I did build a lot of my future career around this what many people will call a very heavily libertarian type novel. That became very popular and it’s still one of the more popular books on transhumanism. I’m probably a much nicer person than the book would show, and it is a novel after all.
The reason I mention this is for 4 years I made a very strong point of not reading any transhumanist literature, not following anyone, just writing my novel which contain a comprehensive philosophy called theological egocentric functionalism. It enabled me to move outside of the idea of any mentors and influences and I would say that a lot of my writing now, I have 3 national columns, I write very strange, bizarre stuff.
My last article was, do we have free will because killed itself, this is way beyond simulation theories, this is now going into some of the furthest reaches of metaphysical ideology. I’m trying not to be influenced so I can be someone who comes up with interesting ideas that people want to hear.
Martin: I like that. Tell me, what is theological egocentric functionalism.
Zoltan: I just call it TAF. I think the main idea of TAF are the 3 laws of transhumanism. Very briefly, they’re essentially laws that say you need to go after ultimate power as any kind of biological and living entity, you need to preserve that power and then, you need to be nice to the rest of the universe. The laws are very controversial and the philosophy is built around those laws and that’s what’s made the book such a cultist hit. It’s because it is something that most people don’t like, even I don’t always like the main character.
It’s something that was designed as a piece of art to challenge you and so is the philosophy. I’ve always said that my book is designed for artificial intelligence, it’s a bridge to artificial intelligence. My book will be a number one best seller when AI starts reading it, but not people. When people read it, they say, it’s so cold, so authoritarian, but I think a machine would probably like my book very much.
Martin: I’m a futurist comic, which means it is my job to be funny in the future when the AI catches up. That’s how I see it, so, I’m with you. What fired off for me was the enlightenment for yourself and for all intelligent beings, and not some kind of extraction from the world. Getting into that, where are you at with other religions? Have you influences with other religions?
Zoltan: I have to say, I’m heavily influenced by Eastern ideologies. Growing up, Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha was one of my most favorite books and I still find it absolutely important. In fact, even in my novel, the spouse of the main character is completely opposed to most of his authoritarian individualistic kind of views and she is what I would call a transhumanist Buddhist, someone who believes in a greater spirituality but using science and technology to achieve that. I actually subscribe to a lot of those philosophies myself. I do believe that in the future we can find an overall enlightenment for the species, everyone can achieve it that has some kind of advanced complexity of thinking.
I also think we’re going to use technology and science to modify and enable us to reach those things. Right now for example, you meditate for 24 hours straight and you lose yourself in some type of perfect Nirvana but, I think that in the future we’ll have brain shifts and cranial implants that will allow us to have more spirituality.
And I think Buddhism, Hinduism too and Confucianism a lot of the non-Abrahamic religions will allow that type of spiritual transformation through technology and science. I just don’t know if Christianity or Islam are ever going to embrace it because I just does go against so much against what you’re trying to say through science and technology to empower yourself. But I do believe Buddhism and Hinduism, I think they are great things, I cant wait to see how transhumanism merges with those philosophies.
Martin: Awesome! Talking about AI. When do you think that machines are going to be so intelligent that we’re going to have to merge with them?
Zoltan: I think 2045 is an awesome timeline but I’m going to say something closer to 2038-2040. Everyone that I’m talking to in the field of AI, living in San Francisco, having access to a lot of cool people that are dealing with that say, if enough money is spent, we’ll arrive there quicker. And I think what’s going to happen, and this is the danger going back to the conflict of my campaign, is, some day, people are going to shut down the research on AI because…
I write a lot of things about AI, I read about a Jesus singularity where, you know, we go through a singularity that is religiously inspired although it’s with AI. I’ve also written about one nation trying to achieve AI first so that they can then dominate the rest of the world because whoever gets it first will be able to rewire or re- hack all the codes, so, have a dominance that no other country will have again probably.
I think at some point the world is probably going to back off and say, wow, do we really want an entity that is smarter then us on the planet that we can’t control. I think that’s sometime in around 10 years you will see a huge discussion in the Governments around the world who will say, maybe it’s not in our best interest. I’m not saying I’m for or against that at all, it’s just I do see a conflict over it arriving because I think introducing a species that smart is a very dangerous game.
Even though I’d love to see it, I’d love to tap my brain into it. I think the most important thing about AI is that it’s the connection between cranial implants, ourselves using AI in our own minds and connecting and merging with it. Then, maybe we can have the AI and be the AI so we can launch the AI as well.
Martin: Cool. You reminded me, because I laugh at Eon Musk. You know… anything that could go wrong it’s… and he’s got the Mars thing. Would you go to Mars? Would you go to another planet… because one of the things with transhumanism is colonizing. Where are you at with that, what needs to happen for us to spread our intelligence?
Zoltan: From an existential risk point of view it makes a lot of sense to actually try to get off the planet and help the species. This goes back to the 3 laws of transhumanism in my philosophy which is, you should pursue colonizing other planets as just a safety measure for the existence of the species itself. That doesn’t necessarily do much for you and I here, but it’s a nice thing to think, well, at least should a solar flare burn half of the planet or something crazy like that, or an asteroid hit us or just some virus wiped us out, it would be nice that there would be something else out there.
We do advocate for that, but we also understand that sending a few hundred people into space is not going to make that big of a difference to 7 billion people on the planet who want to get out of poverty, who want to fix the environmental problems of the planet, who want to have better lives, live longer, have better health so, while we advocate for space exploration, it’s not a huge platform of ours, a much bigger platform is for example trying to make universal income.
It’s a big thing for us. And one of the things in the campaign, you know, vote for me and I will make you live forever. It’s my goal to take money away from foreign wars and put it directly into life extension research and into science. I mean trillions of Dollars and that would be the kind of country I’m aiming to, I want to create a transhumanism inspired planet.
Martin: Let’s now come back to you personally. How are you doing on the presidential campaign? My guess is it’s been a great ride, because you’re getting affirmation of what you’re talking about, how do you feel about it all?
Zoltan: It’s going much better than I thought , to be honest. We are growing much quicker than I thought, there’s much more publicity around it. I stated from the very first article I did on it my declaration that I wasn’t going to win, the transhumanist party wasn’t going to win, we shouldn’t look at it in terms of winning, because the even state ballot is such a difficult process and it takes so many millions of dollars to do it in certain states that you really need a huge amount of resources to pull it off.
But there are a lot of ways to run for President and make an impact and that’s our main goal, it’s to try to use the campaign as a vehicle. I am trying to set myself up for a much better run in 2020 or 2024 when this world that we’re talking about, the transhumanist world will be much more here.
Right now, it’s here, we’re doing a video conference about it and we think of all these tools but I think in 8 years, a lot of us will maybe start thinking about replacing our arm with a robotic arm. In 10 years that is too early but in 15 years robotic arms will be better than human arms and people will actively take them up and so, all this will require some type of leadership that is willing to look beyond social security and, you know, the typical issues, taxes, international affairs, those are the things that Hillary Clinton and Jeff Bush talk about all day. What I’m talking about is some radical stuff.
We want to get real time voting, where you can vote on your app, you don’t need all this paperwork, that’s why people don’t vote so, we’re talking about using technology and science to radically change the structure of how we put people in power and also how these people in power do things. If everyone is going to live longer, obviously, that changes social security dramatically anyways so, we should probably stop talking about social security into our life, we should talk about how to create a system where everyone can live with at least the basic income indefinitely. That’s why I support universal income over trying to bend the social security together.
Because in the world we’re living in, the generation born today, I’d be very surprised if people born today end up dying before 250 years old. When you look at how old people are from the 1900s to now, even you and I have a shot at not biologically dying anymore. Things are changing, I think politicians should address that, that’s what I’m trying to address in my campaign and I think that’s why it’s been so successful, because people are hearing brand new ideas and yes, it’s a little bit too futuristic, but it’s going to be here in 2020 or 2024 and I think that’s when this party might explode and become something mainstream.
Martin: How about the politicians?
Zoltan: You know, politicians don’t want to take it seriously. They want to say, it’s just some little party and some guy talking crazy… I always say this, let’s get Hilary Clinton to talk about design babies. Ten days ago, the Chinese announced that they had been editing the genome. So now we are essentially in the designer baby age. But, if you think abortion is a hot topic, think about how designer baby is. No politician wants to talk about that and yet, the age is already here. So, this is what politicians want to discount it, because it’s very scary for them to ask themselves…
For example, we have proposed that all education should be free and all people go to college. There should be a law making everyone go to college. The reason we say that is because when America made the education law, how long did you have to go to education? Most laws were built in the 60s or in the 50s. as a result, people go from age 5 to 17 to high school, and that is legally required in most countries around the world. But now that people are living almost twice as long as soon will be living twice as long, maybe we ought to also make education longer. But these are thorny topics, it would make sense, as a species, because we live longer, we should become more educated, it’s one of the foundation of being a human being.
But it’s so thorny because then you have all these people saying, you’re mandating this and you’re enforcing this, all kind of authoritarian stuff. I tend to subscribe to many libertarian ideas but some of my ideas have been opposed to it. So, the balance between getting those ideas out and also, getting the politicians to talk about them and to take them to them seriously. So far, they just want to push them aside and say, you’re getting me in trouble, don’t get me into trouble.
Martin: You’ve triggered a thought about Star Trek. Do you favor science fiction films, movies, series?
Zoltan: I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I’ve watched Matrix. I’m a big believer in simulation theories. I did my senior thesis at the university in this topic and I realized back then that there is a very big chance that the university is a simulation. I’m a big believer that the singularity has already been reached a long time ago by some advanced AI. There are 2 billion planets in the universe that are life-friendly, the universe itself is almost 14 billion years old.
To think that we are the very first species to arrive at this level of intelligence is so egomaniac. I think the truth is we’re probably just one of millions of species that have made it and millions of species that have made it to being at least thousands more intelligent than us and I think that what I’m trying to say is it grows in this kind of thinking when I try to go into the real world and deal with people because here I am, telling people that we should live longer, we should live better with technology and science, but at the same time, there are some metaphysical concepts coming up, especially based on recent string theory research from physicists that suggests the world is very different than we actually think.
Without being a new age person, because I’m not on, I’m a science minded philosophy guy, I look at the facts and the facts are sort of overwhelming, but I do believe that we are coming to an age where the discussion of who we are as a species is going to explode and our idea of technologies, our idea of reality, especially with virtual reality, is going to increase our opinion of ourselves and our opinion on the universe dramatically. This will restructure everything about how we think.
Martin: This is not the first time that’s happened. This keeps on happening. It’s as if, we’re not there as a species, there’s more to it. We go, oh, we got it wrong, everyone, we got it wrong.
Zoltan: We always get it wrong and I think, that’s the funny thing, we always think we’re right, but I think the key to understanding, at least in science – I love the scientific method, because it’s the best, I think, because you know you’re never right, you use a logical path to get further and to always discover something new and, hopefully, that new thing you discover helps the species live longer and better and fundamentally scientific minded.
But we are always wrong and we’re finding this out all the time. 10 years ago, coffee was bad, now it’s good. In 10 years it will be bad again. The point is, we’re fine- tuning our knowledge, and we will be doing that for a long time. As soon as we have machines, AI, that we can tap in to, we’re probably very quickly going to learn how much more complex perception reality can be because we’ll be tapping ourselves that will have 10000 or even a million times the computing power than our brains have.
People forget our brains weigh 3 pounds. There is a lot more to the universe than our 3- pound brains. I think the future is outstanding, there is so much discovered and again, it doesn’t really mix into my political campaign, but I like to use some of this metaphysical stuff to say the future is really exciting, it’s not about taxes anymore, it’s not about school systems, it’s about something really dynamic with the human species. We aren’t really the human species. We’re becoming something incredibly complex and we should embrace that, that’s what makes the universe so exciting.
Martin: I like your view. It’s great. If I were American, I’d vote for you. Peter, do you have any questions?
Peter: One observation, Zoltan, is that the Kurzweil theories presume that just by adding computing power we can overtake the human brain in terms of what it can do and I don’t subscribe to that view, I think our creativity and our randomness, our weirdness are things that computers can’t do. What they can do is make us use our time better, they can help us to find stuff, they can help us to link stuff together, but I don’t think they will ever out-evolve us in terms of intelligence. Do you have any thought on that?
Zoltan: I think the idea of randomness and creativity is fascinating because I hear a lot about it, if we’re going to have a machine, then it thinks like a machine. The AI will probably program chaos, randomness and creativity into itself just through programing anomalies, I mean, I do this all the time with myself. I hide an ice cream from myself, hoping I won’t find it after a couple of scotches. We all do tricks to ourselves and I think a machine would do that in order to make itself more creative in a way that isn’t completely logical because you’re right, computing power is not the same thing as humans and their creativity.
I think it’s our creativity or randomness, in fact, is our malice sometimes, our absolute buffoonery that has made us great, because we see the things we do as mistakes or as good things and then we can learn off that, it’s not just a straight race course, the race course is all over the place and sometimes crosses into other race courses and it gets us to a point where we’ve actually learned something. But I think machines will probably mimic the human brain in terms of, how to be crazy, how to be random, how to make mistakes. That will be an important part of its own ability to be creative.
Peter: Yes, I agree with you there. Then, if you take for example Watson, when you first bring Watson to a new domain, where it needs to learn things, you need to give it a fairly good boat off the backside to get it going, into its learning mode and do what we used to call knowledge engineering in my days, just to get it started, once it gets going it can then, because of its natural language abilities, it can read and consume vast amounts of documents and unstructured data and the rest of it. So it becomes quite good at getting a body of knowledge together and the reasoning across that. But it’s still not the same thing as human intelligence.
Martin: There are a couple of things that came up here. Zoltan, Dietmeind was the first one, did you see him playing this game?
Zoltan: I briefly saw and heard about it, I don’t know that much about it, but I’ve been following the purchase and stuff…
Martin: It’s like Peter was saying. It learns the basic process, what the rules of the game are and then it goes through a loophole and it manages to break through the side and knock out anything from the top, so it’s like, next time I will play the game, I will just go with what I learned as a quicker way and it just learns the process. But it took about 600 goals to get there and it’s a very clever system that got there, which could be applied to google+, they say they’re going to have it in there. So, whether it would be sentiment analysis or whatever…
Second thing, are you familiar with Stanislav Grof? He’s a psychotherapist, government funded for years. When he’s talking about the AI, he’s talking about the simulation theory, he always talks about this in terms of, this is God’s joke. This is the ultimate hide-and-seek game from his point of view. We lose ourselves into matter in order to find ourselves because we’re bored. That’s the short version from Grof. These things tie back into the Buddhism.
So, you’re raising questions from the technological realm, they are actually about the nature of reality. I think that’s why it is a great thing that you’re doing. But, I’m exhausted, because you’re doing it from a political point of view and I have to do it from my religious point of view, I can just put the stuff out once in a while.
Zoltan: Thank you, I agree. I just think technology has become almost like a drug, almost like a super LSD. I think the experimentation is great, I actually think everyone on the planet should do it once because to go outside your mind like that and see something new at least once will show you how small we really are, how little we understand about ourselves. It always shocks me how you can have one little drop of a drug and one’s personality changes, one sees things they have never seen. You see different shades of colors. It’s constantly a reminder to me of how the human mind must reach out to grow and to do things.
I hope that in the future we will have more of a culture that embraces that kind of thing through technology because… on the street, if you take LSD and say, I’m going to expand my consciousness, you’ll get arrested. But if you go into the university and they say, we’re going to expand your consciousness through a brain implant that does very similar things, it’s no longer illegal, now it’s scientific, now it’s probably something that the government will be very interested in.
This is why I think technology and science are so great, because it’s credible and we can move forward, expanding our consciousness without freaking out most people. When you do it from another point of view, you just get yourself in trouble but I’m hopeful there will be more experimentation along this line, as people start messing with the human brain. I was excited how Obama put forward the brain initiative. I think this kind of thing is exactly what I would like to see the world doing again and again.
Martin: Great. Assuming you were elected as President, what goals do you have that would be achievable now rather than in the future?
Zoltan: We have 3 goals mainly that we emphasize. If I was in Office, I would immediately downsize the military and instead of this military complex we would shift the money towards a scientific or medical industrial complex. It’s not that I want to take away jobs or take away money from Americans. I just want to shift the money from making bombs into making robotic hearts, artificial limbs, 3d printing, into drugs that allow us to live longer. I’m not talking too many radical things.
Most of it is already here. I just want to spend the money on it. Like, the exoskeleton industry is so small, a couple of million dollars, it can solve many problems for disabled people and things like that so we should spend money on that instead of making bombs and unloading them in far off countries.
The second thing is, we want to spread a culture of transhumanism. I find it amazing that we still live in a country that really is so religious, that honestly believes that as soon as you die you will play harps in heaven. It would be important to me to spread a culture that says, you can hold your religious values but you can’t be so ties to fundamentally believing into a book 2000 years ago. Let’s open ourselves and say, maybe God exists but let’s find him or her through science and technology rather than something that is so fundamental.
And 3, I worry about existential risks. I really worry about an asteroid, I really worry about Ebola, I worry about things like that. So, I would really quickly spend a lot of money as a President on eliminating existential risks from the planet, it would be a shame if some kind of virus took over or some kind of asteroid hit us, it would be stupid that it actually hurts the species itself when we are not advanced. I don’t think people are taking it seriously.
Martin: Let’s talk about purists. So, people who look at technology, wow, I don’t know if I want to chip, I don’t know if I want to remove my arm because that’s a big conversation. How do you respond to that, when people say that being human means keeping technology outside of us?
Zoltan: There are so many people that have technology inside themselves that they would not have thought they would have done that. Who doesn’t have a mobile phone in their pocket? There are artificial hips. We have dental… you don’t necessarily look at it as only cranial implants or something crazy like an artificial arm, technology is helping us to become better, we have cars, they become a part of our body in a way because we use them to move.
So, I think when people get worried about that, it’s important to see the long-term view. We’re a species that started using tools 10-20k years ago and now, all of a sudden, those tools have become our lives.
Those tools are what make us have our lives in this way. Computers, everything, it all comes from this ability to use tools and that’s what transhumanism is about. Having a brain implant, there’s nothing sacred about the human body. I think people should try to open themselves up and say, we’re just using more tools. But what’s sacred, it’s our minds, our version of ourselves, and I don’t think that’s necessarily going to change. I’m not willing to give up my version of myself, but definitely I’m willing to give up my physical being, my biological self. Biology is just like a coffin, it’s just going to die, we can replace it, we can fix it, we can modify it and we can become better.
Martin: There we go everybody, thank you Zoltan.
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