Exclusive: Interview with US presidential candidate

Zoltan Istvan to challenge Trump in 2020; solving Longevity is at the top of his agenda.

Last week, the transhumanist activist Zoltan Istvan announced his candidacy for President of the United States in next year’s elections. The writer, humanitarian and outspoken advocate of radical science is no stranger to the issues surrounding Longevity, and has spoken widely on subjects including AI, genetic editing, technology policy, and futurism.

In 2016, Istvan ran as an independent presidential candidate and travelled across the United States, spreading his message from a coffin-shaped bus, known as the “Immortality Bus.”  This time he’s on the ballot, running against Donald Trump as a candidate for the Republican party in next year’s primaries. Things are a bit more serious this time.

Among his key policies, Istvan includes transhumanism, universal basic income and the need to beat China in the global innovation race – an issue we addressed in our Jamie Metzl interview. We spoke to him to find out more about his views on the Longevity sector.

Longevity.Technology: You ran for President in 2016, what made you decide to run again, and what has changed for you since last time?

Zoltan Istvan: Last time I ran I was not really that well known. I was running as a third party, we had no chance of winning, we weren’t on any ballot, and, in many ways, we were just trying to spread a message. And that’s why we drove this crazy coffin bus across the country. The immortality bus was a really fun adventure and it got a lot of news but in many ways it was somewhat unprofessional.

This time it’s the real deal. I’m on the ballot in enough states where I can actually defeat Trump as the nominee for the Republican Party. And so, if there is a turn of heads, I could end up being the main person going into the elections against a Democrat. That’s really a huge change in terms of talking about Longevity, talking about transhumanism and talking about life extension. We now have almost the ultimate platform for getting conveying these ideas to the public and trying to get them on board. And that’s what’s really changed – I’m now more of a public figure and my politics are being taken much more seriously. We’re in the big leagues now.

Zoltan Istvan speaking

Longevity.Technology: What are the key elements of Longevity and our aging society that you feel need to be addressed most urgently and why?

Zoltan Istvan: For me, the main element is that we need more funding. I would say most people are going to say that as well, but my method of trying to get more funding is by convincing the popular culture that Longevity is a goal worth fighting for.

Right now, especially in America, where 75% of the population believes in an afterlife, most people don’t see the need to fight for Longevity, don’t see the need to fight to try to overcome biological death. As a result, they don’t elect politicians that are out to actually protect Longevity or their long term health, so I’m trying to convince the masses that this is a very worthwhile fight in the 21st century. And it is a winnable fight, but it’s going to take more resources than we have and that means electing politicians in Congress that will go back to the National Institute of Health and other institutions and say, look, this is America’s great goal – let’s conquer aging.


“Right now, especially in America, where 75% of the population believes in an afterlife, most people don’t see the need to fight for Longevity … I’m trying to convince the masses that this is a very worthwhile fight in the 21st century. And it is a winnable fight …”


 

Longevity.Technology: What current Longevity related technologies and science do you find the most compelling?

Zoltan Istvan: Obviously, I’m incredibly compelled by gene editing and age reversal and things like that. You know, can we just take a pill one day to make us live dramatically longer? That’s going to be fantastic if somebody can achieve that – the holy grail of Longevity.

However, the field that matters most to me is probably the 3D printing of organs or creation of bionic organs. Most people die from organ failure in one way or another, so what we really need is to start replacing these big parts in our bodies as they get older and implementing them with a biological bionic part. Bionic organs will allow us to not only perform better as human beings, but will also allow us to control the aging and dying process, so you can tell when something’s wrong because it’ll tell you on your phone. So when are you talking about the thing that I really want most, especially since my dad died of heart failure, I would like to have bionic organs and that’s one of the things that I push out the campaign trail as well.

Longevity.Technology: You mentioned gene editing, which is a sometimes controversial topic – what are your views on the subject?

Zoltan Istvan: It’s a huge shame that we have to think of in terms of a controversial subject. It’s not controversial – it could be the greatest boom ever in terms of science and one of the most, if not the most, important areas of science in the 21st century.

I think America needs to reclaim the leadership in this role, and that means a government and a White House that says, “Look, do what you want to do, as long as we’re not hurting human beings.” Grow third arms, make it so that you can go out into the sun and use plant DNA to get energy, do designer babies, augment intelligence – these are just some of the wild ideas that people are thinking about. Because if we don’t augment intelligence and China starts doing it on the next generation of babies first, what’s that going to lead to? What kind of geopolitical climate will there be in 20 years? The point is, we better do it because we China does it first, we’re never going to catch up.

And so I think we need to reduce or lift all moratoriums and bans – let cloning and all this other stuff start, and let’s just enter that transhumanist age, where genetic editing is something that’s embraced and we can eliminate all the hereditary diseases, we can make them ourselves taller and stronger and better looking. We can go down that path and I know it sounds like a brave new world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It can involve just us as human beings trying to make ourselves better for the best for the good of all. It’s just a matter of getting other people to see it that way and not think of it as controversial, not be afraid of it.


“What kind of geopolitical climate will there be in 20 years? The point is, we better do it because we China does it first, we’re never going to catch up.”


 

Longevity.Technology: Can you elaborate on your concern about China moving ahead in the innovation race?

Zoltan Istvan: As I have been watching and writing on the subject over the last five years, I’ve been watching China take steps that are bigger than America’s. And, of course, China has a population basically four times ours and they have a work culture that’s better than ours. So it doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s only going to take five or 10 more years for China to have a larger economy than ours, and they’re never going to look back. And they’re more open because they’re secular to lots of the crazy new technologies like living forever or artificial intelligence or modifying your body dramatically or even designer babies.

So the point is that America is very conservative. Yes, we’ve been leading innovation for a long time and so has the West, but the West has simply become not as innovative. And now China is taking that mantle and saying look, we’re going to be the world leaders. And I don’t like that because China is an authoritarian government, and I want a democracy to lead the world forward in innovation.

So it’s critical for me on my campaign trail to talk about this. You know, Donald Trump talks about making America great, but he’s not doing anything to stem the Chinese tide. These little trade wars don’t do anything because China is going to create 65 million jobs over the last five years and America might create three million. I mean it’s not even in the same ballpark, so we’re talking about such a revolution in in Asia, that if the West isn’t careful, we’re going to end up with a very different cultural and perhaps authoritarian kind of push in terms of science innovation and that’s not what I want. What I want is innovation. What I want is capitalism thriving – people really coming up with their best ideas and government staying out of it.


“… China is taking that mantle and saying look, we’re going to be the world leaders. And I don’t like that because China is an authoritarian government … China is going to create 65 million jobs over the last five years and America might create three million.”


 

Longevity.Technology: What kind of investment opportunity do you see in Longevity?

Zoltan Istvan: I think people are going to be making fortunes off some of the new Longevity companies that are coming out. There’s just no question to me that whoever can come out with some good products, is just going to become exceedingly wealthy and I think that’s fantastic. This is one of the reasons why I’m running for president – to tell the Republican Party, “You guys are missing the boat.” Beyond these being really wonderful and great ideas for humanity, we’re talking about lots of people making lots of money and if you’re not investing then the other side is investing, so you better get on the ball.


“I think people are going to be making fortunes off some of the new Longevity companies that are coming out … and if you’re not investing then the other side is investing, so you better get on the ball.”


 

Longevity.Technology: If you had the power to change one thing about the world today to help improve global Longevity, what would it be?

Zoltan Istvan: One of the huge parts of our platform is that we want the government to declare that aging is a disease. If we don’t declare aging as a disease, then everyone’s going to look at it as a normal phenomenon, and that’s why no one wants to do anything about it. But as soon as you put it into this public sphere as a real problem, then all of a sudden money will flow into it to tackle it. So, if I could wave my magic wand, then I would make the United States government declare aging as a disease. Because as soon as you do that, the National Institute of Health would then be legally obligated to pour billions and billions of dollars into the field.


“If we don’t declare aging as a disease, then everyone’s going to look at it as a normal phenomenon, and that’s why no one wants to do anything about it.”


 

Beyond that, I was recently at XPrize, where I put forward this idea of a Longevity prize, where every year somebody would get a million dollars for the most important contribution to the Longevity field. There are hundreds and thousands of great activists, great scientists, great writers, and the world isn’t really recognising them. We need a big media event, once a year, probably covered by TV about somebody – that one person each year who has contributed the most.  We feel a Longevity prize could be enormous in attracting attention to the general public about what’s happening in the field of conquering aging and Longevity.

If we can conquer aging by the year 2030 versus 2050, then we will have the ability to save one billion lives. This is the most important quest that humanity has ever faced.

* Possibly

Danny Sullivan
Contributing Editor Danny has worked in technology communications for more than 15 years, spanning Europe and North America. From bionics and lasers to software and pharmaceuticals – and everything in between – he’s covered it all. Danny has wide experience of technology publishing and technical writing and has specific interest in the transfer from idea to market.

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