Ask The Robot Question: Q&A With Zoltan Istvan
The purpose of our #AskTheRobotQuestion initiative is to amplify a national conversation about the potential impact of workforce automation in the United States. Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, and beyond will have significant impact on workers in numerous industries. While we at Future Left believe that automation will undoubtedly bring positive dividends to Americans, we want policymakers to begin thinking deeply about the issue so that any potential negative effects can be mitigated.
Our intention with this campaign is to elevate the issue of workforce automation to the highest arena of political discussion: the US presidential debates. However, the Commission on Presidential Debates recently announced that no third party candidates would be allowed to voice their views at this important forum. To that end we hope to begin reaching to these alternative candidates to amplify their voices on this topic.
It is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Zoltan Istvan as the first participant in this series. As the candidate for the Transhumanist Party, Mr. Istvan clearly demonstrates more consideration for the future than do any of his competitors. In addition to being an accomplished journalist and committed advocate for the future, he is a prolific writer on how advances in a wide range of technologies will impact our society as well as our economy. We are sure that our readers will find Mr. Istvan’s insights into the issue of automation to be both sober and provocative.
Additionally, we hope our readers will consider signing our petition on Change.org in order to encourage debate moderators to ask US Presidential Candidates about workforce automation. We're committed to continuing this discussion by distributing a weekly podcast series discussing the comments submitted by the petition's supporters. Be sure to leave a comment on the petition page so we can discuss your views during our next podcast. You can also find our previous Q&A with authors and thinkers here.
We hope our readers find the comments below as insightful and provocative as we did, and that it contributes meaningfully to the ongoing conversation about workforce automation and what it means for the future of working men and women and their families.
All the best,
Founder & Director, Future Left
Q&A With Zoltan Istvan, Presidential Candidate of the Transhumanist Party.
1. The next presidential administration could potentially last until 2025. What disruptions would you foresee during this timeframe?
"The most important technology is already here. It’s CRISPR gene editing, and we can literally use it to reshape the human being and biology. The next president will make or break this technology. By 2025 we’ll also already have Artificial Intelligence as smart as us, or soon to be as smart as us. This will create grave consequences for national security, with priority #1 being making sure America has control of this tech, and not someone like Russia or N. Korea. Regarding AI and CRISPR, I would advocate the government aiming to utilize both these amazing innovations and make America spend resources to control them."
2. We've already heard concerns about jobs lost to free trade agreements and immigration. As a candidate yourself, are you more or less concerned about jobs lost to automation than these other issues?
It’s inevitable to lose jobs to robots and machines, so we may as well cross that bridge soon. The world is changing. Capitalism will not survive. So let’s get on it, let’s develop a Universal Basic Income that works and give people adequate food, shelter, etc so they can enjoy their lives. In 25 years, 75% of all jobs will be gone. It’s time for everyone to accept that, and enjoy their newfound free time.
3. Why do you think that other candidates haven’t really publicly discussed the issue of workforce automation as you have?
They don’t discuss it because it would mean committing political suicide. The change coming is so dramatic.
4. Often universal basic income is mentioned as a primary avenue by which to ensure a certain level of resilience to automation. How do you view this idea? Is it an appropriate response to automation? Is it a sufficient response to automation?
There isn’t another good answer to automation and loss of jobs to robots other than a Universal Basic Income. The other answers are civil war or not embracing tech and remaining workers forever. I’m not thrilled with Universal Basic Income, since I like competition, but I wholeheartedly accept it as the best answer, and I therefore totally support it. Without it, people will revolt the the world will descend to chaos as robots take all jobs.
5. What role does education—both primary and higher education—play in a transition to a more automated economy?
I support free college education and mandatory college education. But I don’t support this so people can make more money in the future I support this because education makes people more reasonable and civil. So a society will be safer and more rational the more educated the world is. That is a much better world than we have now.
6. Though surely far off, we at Future Left are compelled by the notion of a post-work society, if not a post-scarcity society. Do you view this as a goal for humanity? Do you have concerns about “idle hands” and what people do without the monetary compulsion to find employment?
"I don’t have an easy answer for this. I would love unlimited free time to do anything and all thing I wanted. I’d love to get multiple PhDs, learn to play the violin, and just hang out and read books all day on the beach. But every one will have to determine what they do with their free time. I think it’ll be a great amazing time of history--a true utopia."
7. The automobile, the internet, and numerous other advances in technology had far reaching effects not just on the US economy, but furthermore on society. What impacts and effects do you think continued advances in robotics and artificial intelligence will have on society beyond the workforce?
"The more adventurous of us will become the robots and machines, and this will launch a new era of living beings, ones that are much more sophisticated than biological beings."
8. Finally, what do you want the American people to know about your vision for the future, including but not limited to an economy that is increasingly defined by automation?
"Death is the great tragedy of human life. That we must have children, then lose them forever, or they lose us forever, is horrible. Transhumanist science and technology can change this. As a society and species, we must make this our highest priority. We must spend some of our trillions of dollars of wealth on this quest, otherwise, no matter how far the human evolves, it will always end up in the grave."