Must Listen

Must Read

What Art Thinks


Today's Headlines

  • Sorry... Not Available
Man blowing a shofar

Administrative Area

Locally Contributed...



Special Interest

“Meet the Transhumanist Party: Want to Live Forever? Vote for Me (Excerpts)”
by Jamie Bartlett   
December 23rd, 2014

Jamie Bartlett meets Zoltan Istvan, the man behind a political movement in America that wants to make us all more than human.

Scientists build the One Million Dollar man: how to build a bionic man

More human than human: a bionic man Photo: CHANNEL 4

It usually takes a lifetime for a radical political movement to graduate from the margins to the mainstream. That’s okay, since Zoltan Istvan is planning to live 10,000 years. Zoltan, whom I’ve profiled here, is a transhumanist.

Transhumanists, broadly speaking, are people who want us to become "beyond human". It’s an umbrella term for a broad family of ideas united by the vision that technology now, or at least soon will, allow us to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. That means everything from bionic limbs to 3D printing organs to uploading our entire brains on to memory sticks and carrying them around with us as back up.

But ideas are not enough for this fledgling movement. Transhumanism remains a smallish but well-funded movement – Humanity+, the largest formal umbrella group, has just under 10,000 members from around the world, and they are largely rich Californians, technology geeks and scientists (sometimes all three). And it remains mostly confined to the West. That’s why, in October this year, Zoltan decided to form the Transhumanist Party, and run for president in the 2016 US presidential election.

As you might have guessed, Zoltan will be running on a pretty interesting policy platform. First up – and a particular interest of Zoltan’s, who I’ve come to believe is genuinely determined to live forever – is life extension. This is the study of keeping people alive for as long as possible, either by slowing the ageing process or extending lifespan. "Few fields of study offer so much for civilisation," Zoltan tells me. "And we’re not far off the science being available so people can start living a lot longer – maybe even 50 years or 100 years in the very near future". I’m not sure how accurate his timelines are – others in the Transhumanist movement are a little more cautious. But as it stands he reckons there’s hardly any investment in research of this type – about $1 billion a year (and most of this is on diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's). In terms of what Zoltan considers life extension science – stopping ageing and eliminating death entirely – it’s far, far less. Because of that Zoltan thinks we’re letting people die unnecessarily. In a tidy populist touch, he plans to significantly curtail military spending in favour of research into all this. With enough resources, he thinks we can "conquer" ageing within a decade. The Transhumanist Party advocates spending at least a trillion dollars over ten years directly on life extension research.

Then there’s perhaps the most important policy of all: how to manage the existential risks of rapid scientific advance: engineered viruses, nano-technology, home-made bio-hacking, and of course, artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil – probably the world’s most famous Transhumanist, who works for Google – thinks "the singularity" (the point at which artificial intelligence becomes so smart that it starts making even smarter versions of itself, leaving us mortals trailing behind) will be with us in 2045. It’s a terrifying prospect. The Transhumanists themselves seem divided, although most agree that it’s at least a possibility this century. No party, argues Zoltan, is thinking properly about any of this, but they could become major threats to civilisation in the near future. "I’m not entirely sure yet how we’d regulate it, but the Transhumanist Party will make this a top priority," he explains. "Of course I support AI, nano-technology and other radical engineering, and would increase funding for all of it significantl, but strict safeguards need to be in place too."

go back button