Human rights for robots, free money for everyone and an end to death. These are the policies of the latest presidential candidate to officially declare his candidacy for the 2020 American presidential election. Such policies might sound a touch ambitious and incredibly left-leaning, especially when you consider they come from a candidate representing the Republicans – a party that likes to flex its muscles at poverty-stricken babies etc. Are they suddenly trying to broaden their appeal?

Not all is as it seems. The man in question is transhumanist Zoltan Istvan – a man so committed to transhumanism to the extent that he has a chip implanted in his hand that unlocks his house. However, although he offers a range of dramatic socialist policies, he is far from being a socialist.

To find out more I conducted an online interview with Mr. Istvan about his campaign and ideas for America.

Looking at Istvan’s campaign website it’s clear he advocates for some ideas that are so right-wing even some Republicans might have trouble getting behind them. For example – a desire to introduce the need for pregnancy licenses. He comes across as intelligent, articulate and well-intentioned so I wondered how he could possibly support such an extreme proposal.

In addition to free money and human rights for robots, Istvan also plans to legalize all drugs and make education free for everyone. I couldn’t imagine such policies would be popular with Republicans so asked if this was a real attempt to become president or more of an effort to get the current administration to change course?

“This is a genuine attempt to become President, but it’s in two ways. First, I’m a realist. It would take an extraordinary set of circumstances for something like that to happen to me in 2020. That said, we will be on enough primary ballots to win the nomination, and therefore the Presidency. Second, I’m playing the long game for the Presidency – my time might come 8 or 12 years from now when the things I stand for, like radical science and technology, really are the most important issues in politics. And one day they will be.”

In the UK, to some, the Republicans have an image as being a party opposed to science and logic. Istvan seems smarter than many Republican politicians, albeit he shares some of their policies. I understood that he wishes to change their outlook on many issues, but asked him  – are they not beyond help?

“No one is beyond help. That is core philosophy of transhumanism—that we can improve anyone and anything with science, technology, and reason. So I think what the Republican Party needs is just a good jolting. And also a wake-up call. The GOP needs to be made aware that if they don’t accept transhumanism, then the other side (the Dems) will. So even if conservatives want to be closed-minded, they can’t be. Not if they want to remain a significant party in the future.”

Q – If your campaign gained traction, you would upset the entire Republican party. Do you expect you can find support within the party?

“I expect at first I’ll be treated as a Trojan Horse by conservatives. I think already a number of high-level conservatives are looking at each other, worried that I’m getting a lot of attention and press, and that this ‘new kind of Republican’ could be very bad for old school conservatives in the long run. But then there’s this other section of Americans that are conservative. They are watching Trump, and maybe they don’t hate him, but they’re like: jeez, can’t we do better? Can’t we be unique and fun? I think that’s where I’ll grab a bunch of support, with that more open-minded conservative group. I’m fiscally conservative, always have been. But I’m also willing to drop all the social arguments and just let people do what they want, especially when it concerns their bodies. I think that’s the future of the Republican Party. And there’s a base of people to support that I believe.”

Q – Are you concerned with the kind of enemies you might make in Republican circles?

“Yeah, the death threats haven’t started yet, but I’m sure they will. At the same time, I think many of the younger Republicans (usually the more loud ones) might take a second look and say: it’s better Zoltan is on our side than the other side. So maybe it won’t be as bad as some think.”

 Q – Has the presidency been damaged by Donald Trump?

“Yes…the country has been damaged too obviously. It’s one thing to sow division, but it’s another to lack professionalism while doing so. I really wish Trump would respect the other side. But he’s made his political moves fighting everyone. That’s good for TV, but it’s not good for the average person, or the institution of the presidency.”

Q –   Many Americans have a different view of socialism to people in progressive democracies (eg Scandinavian countries, Western Europe, New Zealand etc). If transhumanism and the associated technological benefits can only flourish in a capitalist system and if we acknowledge the rapid technological advances that socialist China is making, then why can it not also flourish in a socialist system that does not mimic Chinese-style oppression?

“I don’t think socialism is bad per se, and we might end up in 50 years in a communistic society where robots do everything, or a resource-based economy put forth by the late Jacque Fresco. However, in the meantime, I worry that socialist ideals in Europe have made it somewhat bland in terms of innovation, which is a result of that type of socialism. China is very different. Its socialism is not the core of its success. The core of its success is the culture of hard work it has, as well as the huge population – four times America. Those two ingredients will lead to a more prosperous country than anywhere else on Earth, unless America decides to work harder and innovate more, which I’m afraid it’s not doing.”

Q – Are there any differences in your vision for universal basic income (UBI) and that of Democrat candidate Andrew Yang?

 “There are dramatic differences between my UBI and that of Mr. Yang. His raises taxes, and mine uses empty federal land to be leased to raise the money to pay out dividends. There is about $150 trillion dollars of Federal land in America, mostly unused, that could be leased to companies, and that revenue could pay each American a UBI, probably over $1000 a month. Andrew Yang is relying on taxes for his UBI to be paid out. However, I like Andrew a lot, and I think his plan for the Democrats is sound. In fact, there are multiple ways to get money to pay out a UBI, and it might be a good combo of both that end right for the American people, at least according to Congress.”

Q – On UBI and the possibility of leasing federal land – am I not right in thinking that federal land includes national parks and areas of natural beauty? Would there be any protection for these places?

 “Our UBI doesn’t touch national parks whatsoever! Just the other federal land out there, which is immense and mostly unused.”

 Q -If the UK carries out Brexit, what would be your policy regarding Britain and America’s trading status? Would you be seeking investment opportunities in the National Health Service?

“We would seek out investing opportunities regardless what happens. I prefer the UK to stay in the EU, but we’re going to try to trade and work with the UK and the NHS as much as possible. Divorces don’t mean the end of trying to make money.”

Q – How do you justify your idea for pregnancy licenses, and might this prevent you from picking up votes from the left?

 “Our licensing parents program also consists of ideas on getting all people licensed. Leave no one behind who wants to have kids (except those are truly unable to have kids because they are dangerous: homeless, convicted molesters, addicted heavy drug users, etc). If someone doesn’t have enough money to have kids, then I have proposed government and private programs to get them working, etc.

But let’s not forget 15% of American kids go to bed hungry or malnourished every night. And plenty are homeless and runaways because they are abused. Our goal with licensing is to end this vicious cycle. It’s not that different than a seat belt law. And it will help America’s children out dramatically.

We’ll probably lose votes to the left by the licensing thing, but at the end of the day, it’s the millions of suffering kids I care about more. And it’s the right thing to do for their sake and for the sake of their future.”

Q – You support science to try to eventually stop ageing and make death itself obsolete, why is there so little public support to end death?

 “It’s a demographic and religious issue. On the one hand, old people often have so many health problems, that they don’t want to live too much longer because life is physically painful. On the other hand, young people have no fear of death. So, it’s hard to get people interested. And then of course the majority of the world believes in an afterlife through religion, so there’s no incentive there. It’s a sad state of affairs for a transhumanist like me who is agnostic but never wants to die.”

Q -You mention merging the US, Canada and the EU in a joined partnership. Are we talking about a new country or something else?

“Here’s what I’d like to see: some formal discussions on how the US, Canada, and Europe might actually make some joint democratic decisions together for the full benefit of our people. After all, if the US, Canada, and the EU don’t do something soon for each other, China will eat us all alive, and the world will become totally dominated by an authoritarian nation. Just to be clear, I’m not supporting a world democratic government if I’m elected President, but I don’t mind having some discussions on how that type of government might happen, and if it needs to if China becomes too powerful over the next 20 years for humanity’s own good.”

Q – Wouldn’t a robot need to be conscious to potentially qualify for human rights? And would the Turing test even be relevant since animals are conscious and they are denied even the most basic rights?

“I think the Turing Test is too simplistic for a robot to be declared conscious and needing human rights. However, we’ll probably come up with new tests over the next 5 years as AI increasingly becomes super smart. And then we can decide at what point we should allocate rights. But that still might be 10 years off. Nonetheless, we need to prepare now, or we risk a civil rights conflict we’ll regret later.

Animal rights are interesting because there is already a major discussion on how far rights should go. And with coming technology like the neural link and brain implants that might make animals smart and able to talk, there’s going to be another whole conflict there within 5-10 years. Either way, humanity has to be prepared for new intelligences (or old ones just getting very smart) and be civil, fair, and moral regarding that.”   

Finally, since it’s the season of goodwill, and politics is severely lacking in it, what would you buy Donald Trump for Christmas?

 “I’d buy Donald Trump a ticket to the Burning Man festival in Nevada, so he can hang out with the wildest Silicon Valley start-up engineers who are dreaming up the coolest, most bizarre stuff anyone’s ever thought of.”

Jamie Flook

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