Presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan lays out his vision for the future of a global politics where virtual reality, mind-reading headsets, and AI governors are the norm.
As the presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party, I often get asked about the long term future of politics. Frankly, it's a daunting subject. Looking forward 25 years and trying to gauge how rapidly advancing technology is going to change the nature of governance is a difficult, variable-filled prospect.
Technology, after all, is rapidly changing just about every area of human endeavor. Healthcare is morphing into cyborg-care, where doctor visits sometimes include software updates. New sports like Zorb racing or Speed Riding, a combination of paragliding and skiing, are born all the time. Even travel is on the verge of some possible colossal shifts with driverless cars and projects like the Hyperloop.
But what about politics? Just about everyone on the planet directly participates in politics, and has strong opinions about government. Will politics as it stands, with its voting booths, hand-waiving candidates, and rowdy national conventions remain the same as the transhumanist age thoroughly engulfs us? Or will government itself change in form as digital-everything becomes the norm?
Take virtual reality for example. It's likely, especially after Facebook's purchase of the Oculus Rift last year, that an increasing amount of people will be immersed in VR worlds within the next five to ten years. It's possible that an entire mirror civilization of our species will appear in VR, one that will surely be more welcome for some than our current reality, as is sometimes the case in Second Life.
But who will monitor this expanding VR world? Does it belong to national governments? Right now it does, but what if someone creates a VR world that shoots its signal from space, as some entrepreneurs want to do? Will that virtual world belong to Earth? Or to the company that created it? Or to the person that created it, who might declare themselves emperor or cult leader of their worlds.
Such ideas are not as far-fetched as they seem. There are already a number of movements and organizations afoot in the physical world to bring about stateless societies. The better ones tend to have extensive manifestos and hold egalitarian values. One group is Zero State, and its basic idea is to create networks of people and resources which could evolve into a distributed, virtual state. They currently have a few thousand members.
Additionally, the Transhumanist Party (Virtual) was recently formed on Facebook, which aims to unite and support the many national transhumanist political parties that have recently popped up.
Is it possible that in the future, the state as we know it might not exist? To be sure, we'd need much more radical technology for such an idea to even be realistically feasible. But experts say some of that technology is coming. In 2014, Jose Cordeiro, a Singularity University professor, told a crowd at the World Future Society that spoken language "could start disappearing in 20 years."
He thinks mindreading headsets may replace spoken language and significantly improve human communications. I've already written about how these mindreading headsets will make future music concerts virtual, and how they will also likely reduce the need for knowing a second language, since something like Google translator will make on-demand translations for people. In short, everyone on the planet will understand everyone else—all the time. And this could start being our main communication in as little as two decades.
When you think about it, the planet could become a lot smaller very quickly if we could get over the language barrier that seven billion people have with each other. Furthermore, it's likely those mindreading headsets won't even be headsets in 20 years. They'll be chip implants in our heads, and despite everyone's complaints about over-surveillance, such implants will simply be too useful not to have. Everyone will have an implant, and they'll monitor everything about our lives, including our health, well being, and safety.
If I had to guess (and mind you, I'm not advocating for this, but just telling you how I see it playing out), I'm betting that many, if not most, countries will merge in the 21st century as a digital-inspired globalization further takes root. I'm betting one central virtual currency will be used too—maybe even Bitcoin if it can get over some of its many birthing hiccups. I'm betting borders will fall away and people will be able to travel, work, and live wherever they want. In general, rules and barriers don't help prosperity in the long term, but freedom and technology do.
WHICH BRINGS US TO THE OBVIOUS QUESTION: SHOULD WE LET AI RUN THE GOVERNMENT ONCE IT'S SMARTER THAN US?
So how might such a global government operate? It's possible in the future, should we all be so interconnected, that one central agency will virtually send out items for everyone to vote on. Maybe there will be one special day of the year where all major voting and decisions take place. Possibly, smaller policies will be implemented on a rolling basis as they get enough people to consider and support them. That's democracy in real time—and we should expect that in the future too.
The wildcard here is AI, and the rise of an Artificial General Intelligence that rivals our own. Right about at the same time, in approximately 25 years, when we'll be reaching many technologies that will be transformative for the human species—such as ubiquitous telepathy between people—we'll also be launching AI. In its first year of existence, AI could become much, much smarter than us—10,000 times smarter than us, even. I tend to believe, like most everyone else, that AI must be carefully regulated so it doesn't create a Terminator-like scenario for the planet. But I'm also confident we can create an AI that will help our species indefinitely. Which brings us to the obvious question: Should we let AI run the government once it's smarter than us? Take that one step further—should we let that AI be the President—maybe even giving it a robot form for aesthetics or familiarity's sake?
It's not that bizarre of a concept. Who didn't watch Deep Blue beat Kasparov in Chess and wonder if a new age of intellect had arrived—one that was quite different than our own?
In Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel Childhood's End, aliens take over the world and inspire humanity to live peacefully and productively. The world experiences a golden age of prosperity. Perhaps AI policies would do the same thing. We would have government and a leader who really is after the world's best interests, free from the hazards of corporate lobbyists and selfishness.
As a futurist and a politician, a central aim of mine is to do the most good for the greatest amount of people. I still find the AI rulership scenario a hard pill to swallow. I love my freedoms, win or lose, more that infinite productivity. But perhaps as technology engulfs us, and we grow less afraid of losing our freedoms and more appreciative of all our uber-modern benefits, we'll feel differently—especially as we all experience near-perfect health, unprecedented safety, and a utopian, transhumanist existence.