November 04, 2016      

Transhumanism is a philosophy that focuses on improving the human condition with technology. The goal is to live forever as a new species, essentially.

Zoltan Istvan is one of today’s more prominent transhumanists. He is so passionate about transhumanism that in 2014 he announced a presidential campaign as head of the Transhumanist Party. He knew he wasn’t going to win. In fact, he fully admits his campaign was a sophisticated PR stunt to spread the word about transhumanism.

Istvan, who spoke about transhumanism at RoboBusiness 2016, didn’t receive nearly enough support to get on the presidential ballot. But it appears the entire experience has been tough sledding.

Istvan announced he will be stepping down from the Transhumanist Party next week. He made the announcement during his Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on November 2 when asked if he would run again in 2020.

“I’m planning on stepping down from the Transhumanist Party next week,” Istvan writes. “There are transition plans in the works to return the party to the community. I will continue to advise it and support it.

“I’m not sure about a 2020 run for the Presidency. I might seek a lower office so I actually have a chance of winning, but I will certainly run again for the White House. But I’d like to do it when I have a chance of winning! And it takes a lot out of one, so I want to plan a much better program next time, one that might actually win.”

So why is Istvan stepping down? Shockingly, it seems the Transhumanist Party isn’t that different from other political parties.

“The process for me as Chairman of the party has been brutal. That’s partially why I’m stepping down next week. The infighting has just beaten me up too much. There’s so many hard left and hard right people, and nobody wants to work together. I tried to keep the Transhumanist Party centric and focused on science and tech, but it’s very hard to do. Good luck to the new leaders of it!”

Istvan continues, “one thing I want to point out too, is the hard right and the hard left have to learn to work together for the sake of transhumanism politics moving forward. Part of the reason I’m stepping down is how hard it is for me to try to continually unite all the sides. It’s back-breaking work, and yet, if transhumanism wants to move forward together, it must be more embracing of all the sides!”

Istvan’s Reddit AMA discussed robots, of course. Here’s a sampling of the questions about robots and Istvan’s responses.

How do you reconcile personal autonomy with forcing someone to complete education, particularly higher ed? College is a deeply transformative process. If someone wishes to forgo that opportunity, why not afford them that choice?

The second question for me is really about aging. We are a society that soon won’t work due to all jobs being replaced by robots, and we will be living to 150. We haven’t changed education laws in over a half century. We should. It will make society better.

In an age of abundance and unlimited flow of capital, how do get those with the means to pay into society’s needs? Are we risking a faction becoming too powerful and detrimental to people in general?

I think we can get the rich and powerful to take care of everyone else. I don’t support a Universal Basic Income because I think everyone deserves free money–I support it because I don’t want civil war and revolution from tens of millions of unemployed people, which is exactly what we’lll get if replace jobs with robots but don’t give people anything in return. We are all in this ball game together. We must choose to be pragmatic so everyone can find something worthwhile in life–so that peace is abundant.

Do you feel that common robots (which I’ve called helots) would be a great asset for any municipality?

If so, what are your plans for such things? I’d imagine they’d be unrivaled in terms of making any municipality – from the largest cities down to the smallest hamlets – self-repairing, self-cleaning, and self-sufficient. This would aid in fixing up the appearance of slums, cleaning water sources, repairing potholes to assist autonomous vehicles, aiding after natural disasters, and perhaps even growing common pools of food anyone (especially those going without) can draw from.

I understand we’re quite a ways away from creating such things, but you never know. No one expected DeepMind, after all. Cross ASIMO with DeepMind and you very well may have a true utility robot.

This is a tough question, since probably any robot we create will soon be able with upgrades to be smarter than us, so creating an underdog class might not work, if they are able to upgrade themselves. However, having robots work for us, so long as they are not capable of personhood, would be fine, I think.