A square-jawed Presidential candidate with an embedded RFID microchip in his hand which opens doors for him, riding around the United States in a coffin-shaped vehicle called the “Immortality Bus,” sounds like a scene out of a David Foster Wallace novel.
In fact, it’s the real-life world of Zoltan Istvan, leader of the Transhumanist party and independent candidate for the forthcoming U.S. elections. Istvan’s platform? That he wants you (yes, you!) to live forever.
“The number one platform that we have at the transhumanist party and in my campaign is trying to overcome death with science and technology,” Istvan told Digital Trends. “That is the central premise I’ve been running my campaign on.”
Like Donald Trump, 43-year-old Istvan is funding his own campaign. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t have Scrooge McDuck quantities of money to do it. His website assures us that he “isn’t super rich,” and that his campaign is being paid for out own own pocket: thriftily for “well under $100,000.”
But if there’s not (comparatively) much money, there are certainly big ambitions. “We believe science and technology can solve every single problem the best,” he said. “If you ask Obama, or if you ask Trump or Clinton, they’re going to say that they solve problems either on ethics, religious values, historical values, or based on the Constitution. Well, in the Transhumanist party, my campaign, we think everything can be answered best by the scientific method, hands down. It has to put a scientific or technological solution.”
“Transhumanism’s number one goal is to not die and to become godlike through technology. That’s been an uphill battle.”
If the solutions are scientific, that’s because the questions are, too. Istvan noted that, “We consider life extension science and transhumanism a matter of life and death. [It’s] the most important national security issue, the most important national cultural issue that’s facing Americans.”
A 20-point proposed plan calls for the implementation of a Transhumanist Bill of Rights that would lay groundwork for the future rights of “advanced sapient beings like conscious robots and cyborgs.” There’s also a flat tax until robots take our jobs in 25 years, the legalization of recreational drugs, a “Transhumanist Olympics,” plenty of funding for cutting-edge AI experiments, and more. Perhaps most important is the downplaying of religion in favor of science.
“We live in a Judeo-Christian framework that celebrates death, that wants people to die, that celebrates Christmas and Easter,” he said. “We have God on the dollar bill and we say ‘God bless you’ when we sneeze. There’s this huge emphasis on [dying]. Transhumanism’s number one goal is to not die and to become godlike through technology. That’s been an uphill battle.”
In terms of Istvan’s own plan to avoid the grave (a fate certainly tempted by speeding around in, quite literally, a coffin on wheels), he noted that he “personally [wants] nothing less than [his] pure consciousness — the person that you’re speaking to right now” to be uploaded to a machine. And the starting point of all this isn’t too far off, either.
“With some of the advances in telepathy in the last few years, using EEG brainwave technologies, I have no question that within 5-10 years we’re going to start making some real headway in being able to upload our own thoughts and having basic algorithms that run them,” he said. “At what point will that become our full consciousness and is that even possible? I don’t know.”
What’s been interesting about following Zoltan Istvan’s independent run for presidency is that, despite the zany sci-fi aspects of it, there’s a lot that mimics many other politicians. For instance, having made big blanket statements early on, he’s now forgoing some of the bluster in favor of slightly more focused appeal.
“The emphasis on overcoming death is something I’ve subdued a little bit, in favor of being more about human augmentation for disabled people, gene editing as a way to eliminate cancer, artificial intelligence, and a universal basic income,” he said. “When I began this campaign, I was virtually unknown. There’s a little bit of sensationalism that you put into a campaign to get noticed. But then I got the attention of some of the larger political platforms and all of a sudden I tried to make the platform a little more accountable to the common American.”
The biggest surprise of all, however, is that quite a lot of what Istvan says actually makes pretty good sense. For instance, he wants to use digital technologies to overhaul the democratic system to make it easier for people to get involved with politics. He also thinks far more emphasis should be place on exploring existential risks like artificial intelligence. If there’s some wackiness thrown in for good measure, it’s hard to argue with some of his points.
Which is why, despite saying that his party is now running “fifth or sixth overall” and that his popularity is “5,000-1,000 percent of where it was a year ago,” it’s a shame to hear he knows it’s a lost battle. “I don’t think we have any chance of winning, of course, but we’re really getting the message out and a lot of people are noticing,” he said.
However, this isn’t it. Istvan told us that he will run again, although hopefully next time for a major party. As to our remaining options, is our transhumanist future in better hands with Hillary or Trump?
“People ask me who’s better for science and technology,” he said. “Generally speaking I would say Hillary would be best, but because Trump is a business person and on the bombastic, explosive side I could see Trump saying, ‘Hey, I want to live forever.’ Trump’s never been a very religious person … I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump one day wants to get augmented so he can improve his physique and his body and things like that.”
So The Trumpinator, then? Someone get James Cameron on the phone…