Zoltan Istvan is many things, but he is moderate in neither word nor action. The Transhumanist Party’s presidential candidate is driving across America in a giant bus shaped like a coffin to talk about his relative simple platform: Fund science, health, and technology research to help Americans achieve immortality. Because why not and to make a point, he recently embedded an RFID chip in his left hand. Oh, and he claims to have invented a sport called “volcanoboarding.”
He’s interesting. He’s also — and this may shock some people unaccustomed to his particular genre of eccentricities — worth hearing out. Zoltan Istvan is many things, but he isn’t crazy. He doesn’t think he’ll ever see the inside of the White House. What he does thing is that policy should be forward looking and the electorate should as well. He spoke with Inverse about winning over God-fearing Southerners, whether science can survive another Clinton administration, and what could happen if America doesn’t give transhumanism a chance.
Are Americans really ready to consider a transhumanist future?
I have been driving this crazy coffin-shaped bus through the South, and naturally they’re very religious and very conservative. A lot of Americans are not necessarily ready to accept some of the full ramifications of transhumanism; however, I am confident that over the next five to 10 years, they will be.
If you were to ask the huge amount of people in the South if they were willing to accept cell phones 15 years ago, they probably would have said no. Now everyone has one, and I think the same thing will happen with transhumanist technology. Many places, like the East and West Coast, are definitely actively embracing transhumanism. But there are huge parts in the middle of the country — specifically the Bible Belt — that see it as an infringement of their religious philosophies.
Does that come down to a deep-seated fear of immortality?
Some 70 percent of the American population are Christians, and they’ve already got this “eternal life” thing figured out because an Abrahamic God is going to give it to them. But of course, transhumanists, who are mostly agnostic or mostly atheist like myself, don’t believe in that. There’s definitely a conflict there.
The immortality aspect is not the concept that bothers them the most. It’s using transhumanism to achieve God-like attributes. According to the Bible, you’re just not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to be humble servants asking for forgiveness. This is one of the most challenging things about transhumanism: Convincing a broadly religious populace in America that embracing transhumanism is not against their religion and is certainly in their best interest. That’s a tough one, because if they follow the Bible literally, it will basically shut down transhumanism verse by verse.
So how do you get through to them?
One way is to try to expand their horizons of what Scripture might mean. The bigger question is whether the religious people will embrace it — and then you start with ideas like, eternal life through Christ might be the same thing as eternal life through transhumanism. Maybe Christ is reaching you through transhumanism and that was his plan all along. But like I said, we don’t go out of our way to do that because most of the time it just results in opposition and arguments.
So is the goal of the bus not to change, but expand minds?
What we’re really trying to do is to generate attention to transhumanism in hopes that the government will allocate much more money to science and technology. That technology doesn’t have to be for deliberately living forever. It’s just that right now, the government is spending 20 percent of its GDP on making bombs on fighting far-off wars. And we’ve said this again and again: Let us have a war on cancer, on Alzheimer’s, on diabetes. I don’t think we need another war in the Middle East somewhere. We’ve had enough of those.
Whether I speak to Christians or to atheists, everybody embraces that message — to get the average person to vote for politicians who are interested in science and medicine rather than spending more money on keeping this nation in a military-industrial complex. We want a scientific-industrial complex or an education-industrial complex.
Are any leading-party Presidential candidates doing it right?
Nobody is doing it right at all right now. Obviously, I lean a little bit left, so I support Sanders and Clinton. But I have not heard one political candidate discuss designer babies. I haven’t heard one political candidate discuss robotic hearts and ending heart disease, even though that could be the biggest thing and a third of us will die of heart disease. I haven’t heard one political candidate discuss artificial intelligence in terms of the military, even though it’s obviously clear that whichever country reaches an AI or a superintelligent entity first will hold all military power. I haven’t heard one presidential candidate mention it, even though it can happen within a 10- to 20-year span and is potentially the most important military aspect of all time.
Why aren’t they doing it?
They’re hot-button issues. If Hillary Clinton got asked about designer babies — a concept we already have here, China messed with the human genome a few months ago — we’re talking about, in a couple of years, changing the IQ of our children. That’s something that’s going to be happening in the next three to five years, and not one presidential candidate is talking about it. Imagine if only China allows it, and America doesn’t? Well, in one generation, we’re going to be the dunces in the classroom.
This is major stuff — it’s how civilization and society moves forward — and to not even mention it has been very disappointing. I’ve made it one of my main goals, as a presidential candidate, to try and get this stuff in the press and get other politicians to comment on it. Unfortunately, getting Hillary Clinton or even Donald Trump to comment on this stuff has so far not led anywhere. It’s not about policy, it’s about the conversation. The nation needs to have these conversations, and I don’t just mean doctors — I mean the plumbers, the nurses, the teachers. Everyone in America needs to start thinking about this.
Are you worried another country will beat us to a political transhumanist-inspired revolution?
It’s kind of like with stem cells: If it’s not America talking about it first, then it goes somewhere else. That’s where the research money and the best scientists go. During his two presidencies, George W. Bush basically shut down the federal funding of stem cell research, so that money went out of the country to Italy, China, all over the place — but not to America. Great scientists left America to pursue their scientific ambitions. That’s not good for the American economy and certainly not good for the average health of the American citizen because that science and medicine is somewhere else. We’re trying to make it so that we have an actual lead on some of this stuff. If China starts augmenting intelligence first, it only takes one generation before you start seeing that in test scores in college.
What’s the actual deal with the Immortality Bus?
Some people call it a gimmick, and some people call it really wacky and weird, and of course it’s all those things. But it’s also a vehicle for spreading a message. If it was a normal bus, it probably wouldn’t work as well. But when you drive a giant coffin over the Golden Gate Bridge in rush hour traffic and you’ve got 2,000 eyes on it, then people start wondering, what does he mean?
What are you hoping the leading presidential candidates will learn from the Transhumanists?
We are spreading a culture of radical technology. It’s not that we’re all scientists. We’re just normal people that realize that, without a culture of techno-optimism, nothing gets done. And the reason is that 100 percent of the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, and the U.S. President is all religious — they all believe in afterlives. They don’t see a reason for wanting to live indefinitely. So we must spread a culture through the land where people start to understand that they may want this technology and science and they may need funding from the government to start accomplishing these aims because that’s how you change culture.