Transhumanist and libertarian, Zoltan Istvan, discusses his vision for the state of California and why he believes he should be its governor.
On August 4th, Zoltan Istvan joined Merion West‘s Erich Prince for an interview to discuss his campaign for Governor of California. Running in this race as a Libertarian, Mr. Istvan previously ran in the 2016 presidential election as a member of the Transhumanist Party. Working previously for National Geographic, Mr. Istvan is well-known for his writings on transhumanism, the movement that aims to improve human life and extend longevity through science. A pillar of his campaign for Governor of California includes a proposal for implementing universal basic income.
Mr. Istvan, thank you for joining us this morning. Could you start by explaining the connection that you see between transhumanism, the movement you’re so involved with, and libertarianism?
The transhumanism and libertarian movement are connected through this concept called Morphological freedom. Morphological freedom is the idea that you should be able to do anything with your body that you want to do, as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. It’s a core transhumanist concept. Of course, it’s also a core libertarian concept. It’s the idea that your body belongs to you; it’s part of the non-aggression principle, and because of that single issue, transhumanism and libertarianism have always been connected. As a result, when the movement first began, it was very libertarian-oriented, and I still find it very libertarian-oriented, especially when it comes to government staying out of the way of people wanting to do science and not face interference.
Whether it is something radical like taking off your arm and putting a new robotic arm, or whether it’s just the idea of using genetic therapies to modify oneself, including augmenting intelligence, or whatever it is, we just simply believe that the government ought not be involved in that process. Of course, this is also libertarianism in a nutshell, even if, in this case, it concerns transhumanist research and technology.
Your proposals for a universal basic income have been identified as a hallmark of your campaign. Could you briefly describe how you envision this solving problems for lower income Californians?
What a lot of people don’t realize is that California is the most populated state in America. Of its large population, about 19 million people are living at, barely above or below the poverty line. The poverty line is about $24,000 a year. We are talking about a lot of people worrying about where their next meal is going to come from—let alone worrying about whether they can afford healthcare or what kind of education they can get. These are people that have genuine worries about their livelihoods.
We want to completely change that. My basic income is called a Federal Land Dividend because it would lease out the approximately $15-20 million of federal land that is in California. It is about 45 million acres. Whatever it is, California is holding onto a vast amount of natural resources that the Coastal Commission is not allowing people to develop, or the regulatory governmental bodies are not allowing people to tap into. We have enough money to pay Californians through the leasing of this land in California. This federal land dividend, not including the national parks, should get Californians $56,000 a year per household. There are 13 million households in California. So we could literally eliminate poverty with this Federal Land Dividend in California if we could just implement this basic income.
Of course, this would give people money to get healthcare. This would give people the money to get off welfare and to not worry about Social Security. These are all the kinds of things that can be folded into this one giant basic income plan. It does not require raising taxes at all, therefore it’s quite libertarian too. It just requires leasing much of the federal land we have in California in order to start paying Californians a very basic income so that they can live and have no more poverty.
It is not uncommon to hear some folks from the scientific community bemoaning the fact that there are relatively few elected officials with backgrounds in science. Do you have a theory to why this might be the case?
The thing with politics and science is really simple. You just have to look at the numbers. All 535 members of Congress, all nine Supreme Court Justices, and the President and his administration: all of them claim to believe in an afterlife. They all believe in religion. They all believe that when they die they will meet Jesus in heaven. That’s not a good environment for science, which believes in the scientific method and wants to keep God completely out of all scientific questions. Scientists use the scientific method to make decisions and religious people use faith. This is not to say scientists are hostile to religion necessarily; they just do not believe religious matters should be involved in the scientific process.
If you’re trying to push forth the science doctrine as your political platform, as I do, you run into this issue all the time. All the religious people, who often vote people into office, say: “Well you’re not one of us; you’re not someone who uses faith to make decisions. Therefore, you have no moral bearing or you have no ethical platform or whatnot.” This is, of course, totally untrue, but this is the way culture has perceived politicians with science. We have a system where, if you are not openly religious and willing to say that everything should come down to faith, then you are probably mostly excluded from political consideration by many voters.
People should be more open to others and politicians who are non-religious. It doesn’t mean that they’re atheists, it just means that they are not using religion as the main tool to try and run their campaigns, and, in fact, many people do use religion as that kind of striking tool to win their campaigns. If a science politician can’t do that, he or she has no chance of winning. That’s been a very tough road, and that’s why science and politics don’t go well together. Therefore, if you’re really into science you have to downplay it, so you don’t alienate the Judeo-Christian population, which is 75% of us in the United States.
The debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg when it comes to artificial intelligence has been in the news recently. Mr. Musk has accused Mr. Zuckerberg of not being sufficiently wary of the existential dangers of beings that are smarter than humans. Is there one side you favor in this debate on artificial intelligence?
I have consulted with the United States Navy, so I have been somewhat on the front lines of what the military perspective is on artificial intelligence, and I can assure you that it is a national security concern. If you ever had a machine intelligence as smart as human beings, and all of a sudden that machine wants to do a Terminator trick, this then becomes a global security issue at the highest level.
When Elon Musk says he’s worried, I think that’s a very good way of looking at it. I do take the perspective that we also should be worried. That said, for the next ten years, we are not going to have artificial intelligence that’s that smart, so right now we don’t need to worry about regulating the AI industry or how far it’s going to go.
However, when we get to a moment where AI is almost as smart as humans, I think that’s the time someone is going to have to step in and say: “Okay, do we really want a species that’s as smart as human beings on planet Earth?” The answer is probably not. I don’t feel that I want a species smarter than I am on planet Earth. That could be very dangerous. But the key to artificial intelligence is its sister field: neuroprosthetics or the neurolace.
We can have AI which is much smarter than us, so long as we have a neurolace and we can tap directly into that AI through our own brain waves. Then we’re one and the same with AI. We’re all tapped into it. That way we can actually let AI continue to develop further, and we don’t have to worry about automation taking jobs and whatnot. The real future of AI is not so much whether it is going to take over and become the Terminator or something like that; it is much more the question of how fast can we innovate these neuroprosthetics, which will allow us to connect in thoughts directly in commune with AI. Once that happens, we can kind of allow AI to lead us. We will be one with it, so it wouldn’t make a difference.
And getting now towards the end of our time, could you make your brief pitch to California voters? Why should the people of California trust a third party candidate this time around?
I’m the only candidate out there that’s literally proposing to eliminate all poverty in California through a very simple and straightforward plan of basic income. Almost half the state is living in, at, or near poverty level. A Federal Land Dividend, my basic income plan, of leasing all this untouched California land will eliminate virtually all poverty. It will give everybody access to the healthcare they want to choose. It will give people access to new types of jobs because they’ll have funds, and we won’t have to worry about the kinds of crises that can happen if they lose their jobs.
A basic income gives a platform on every level to every citizen in California. That’s something no other candidate is offering. No other candidate wants to take that chance because they’re not going to get very far; their political parties don’t support a basic income. Well, I have a libertarian version of a basic income that will not raise taxes at all. It can be implemented on day one when I get into office and start helping people, and I think that’s the main reason voters want somebody that’s less well-known, someone from a third party.
It is a way to revive California’s economy for all its residents, not just the rich. It is a way to start building new infrastructure projects. It is a way to ensure liberties, and it’s also a way to eventually lower taxes, and make it so Californians can have their cake and they can eat it too. We must stop inequality from continuing to grow, and I’m the only gubernatorial candidate that has a workable plan to do that. All the other candidates, liberal or conservative, are just a continuation of the same old routine and policies we’ve always known—and that clearly doesn’t work well.
Lastly, predicting the future is a notoriously difficult sport. With that said, how far away is the humanity from these potential innovations that might significantly extend longevity?
It depends on whom you ask. Some say that as soon as five to six years from now, some of these technologies will be appearing. However, it’s not like you take a pill and then live forever. One of the main causes of death is organ failure. Organs give way gradually so you replace them one by one. This means artificial organs or 3D printed organs will become a major part of the process. So some of these more advanced life extension technologies are probably ten to fifteen years away. This means people, who are going to be reaching the end of their lives around that time, will have a choice to make, of how long they want to live—including maybe indefinitely.
Mr. Istvan, thank you so much for joining us today, and we wish you the best with your campaign and your work in life extension. Personally, I’d like to see some of these technologies appearing sooner rather than later.
Thanks for having me.