About a book: The Transhumanist Wager by Zoltan Istvan

Zoltan Istvan is running for president this year, as a member of the Transhumanist Party.

He has some reasonable ideas amidst the stuff that you know will keep him out of serious running. On the one hand, he wants good education for everyone, a flat tax and a has a Libertarian stance on recreational drugs. On the other hand, the party platform has stuff like phasing out jobs for humans, creating rights for cyborgs and stressing secular values.

If his novel, The Transhumanist Wager, however, is more of the platform manifesto it seems to be, he'd be a bit on the dangerous side for the world.

The novel itself paints a picture of a futuristic, science-based capitalist near-Utopia that really is not all that far off. People will live forever in good health thanks to medical procedures that renew our systems and a change in telomerase rates (that's something SENS is actually working on in real life — I've written about them here before) and the introduction of mechanical implants.

The nation that develops this technology, Transhumania, exists because some of the world's great scientists, under the direction of American movement leader Jethro Knights, are forced out of their own countries for their views on transhumanism, the idea that humans can evolve into something greater.

The anti-transhuman movement is driven in large part by religious groups in the U.S., and in particular by Reverend Belinas, a megachurch leader with deep political connections. He advises the president and many members of Congress, as well as some of the country's wealthiest individuals.

The world's top powers get together and decide to put an ultimatum on Transhumania, but Knights goes before their leaders and demands their surrender. The powers eventually kidnap Knights, but he escapes thanks to some of Transhumania's inventions and a chip implanted in his neck. When the top nations attack Transhumania, it turns out the defense systems are so complex there are barely any injuries on Transhumania's side; meanwhile, redirected rockets are responsible for the allies hitting each other's ships, killing thousands.

At this point, Transhumania puts its military might to work, letting all the countries know which symbolically powerful landmarks will be wiped out so that people can be cleared away. Knights' forces then destroy religious and political landmarks, from the Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall to Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the White House.

Once the centers of superstition and power are wiped out, the reasoning goes, science can take over.

After this attack, Knights launches into a speech that feels as long and overwrought as John Galt's 98-page monster in Atlas Shrugged (it's not nearly that long, but sometimes it feels like it). Join us and live forever, Knights says, or we're just going to leave you behind. You're to be well-educated and productive, or we might as well just kill you and have you stop using our resources. There are too many people; decide which side you'd like to be on.

The book ends with some medical science at work; medical science that we're headed toward in real life. Morgan Spurlock saw some of it in Season 2, Episode 2 of "Inside Man" (see him talking about it a little bit here).

There's certainly some validity to transhumanism. We're not ready for it in our current generation, I don't think; it requires allowing everyone to rise on their own merit, turning ego only to improving oneself without allowing for competition. The kind of empathy transhumanism allows is evolutionary, not individual — we're not out to save all lives, just the lives that will help advance humans.

But read the book. Get educated. For as alarming as the anti-religion, anti-nation bits are, there's a new perspective that a growing population is finding worthwhile.

Can we avoid death?

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"nanoimmortality" by kemmikore, used under CC BY-SA 2.0

What would you do with an extra 10 years on your life? An extra 100? An extra 1,000? We might be heading that way.

Yuval Noah Harari, speaking to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, notes that death used to be what he calls a metaphysical problem — something decreed by the gods — now, we see aging and death as a technical problem, one to be solved by science.

He also notes, however, that over the next several decades, people will lose their value both to world militaries and to world economies, as machines take over. As that happens, Harari says, we might also see a halt to our system of mass medicine. In that case, instead of having people fix the consequences of aging (Alzheimer's, arthritis, etc.), we'll see research to prevent aging altogether.

Research is advancing in both, to be sure — scientists are using origami to design nanobots that will course through our blood, battling the bad stuff — but there are also some people doing research into helping us live, in good health, indefinitely.

Terry Grossman runs a center that tests pretty much everything that has anything to do with showing the effects of aging, with an eye toward correcting it. Some of the more underground research, though, is being done by people like the folks at Sierra Sciences. Founder Bill Andrews is looking to "cure aging or die trying." He runs an ultramarathon (50-100 miles) every month, in his 60s. His bio says his goal is to run a seven-minute mile at the age of 130. Hear him on Singularity 1 on 1.

The SENS Research Foundation is doing a lot of research into biorejuvenation — the idea that we can use, perhaps, stem cells to make our parts function as if they are in their prime with an injection or something similar. Once your heart starts to fail, for example, we'd be able to make it work well. And not just once — if a heart's prime life span is 30 years, every 30 years, we'd rejuvenate your heart. Or your liver. Or your eyes. Or whatever you needed.

Aubrey de Grey is that center's outspoken lead scientist. Hear him on Joe Rogan's podcast. One thing I find really interesting on this podcast is that the two do get into some discussion of the ethics — while defeating aging certainly sounds like a noble cause, when do we run out of resources, both as a planet and as individuals?

Grossman, Andrews and de Grey are all featured prominently in the documentary The Immortalists.

There's also another branch of immortality research called transhumanism, which really seems to be a live-forever-at-all-costs movement. Artificial limbs are the beginning of this line, but merging humans with machines — what science fiction calls "cyborgs" — is the direction this research is going.

The most visible proponent of this, at this moment, is author Zoltan Istvan, who is running for U.S. president in 2016.

This is, indeed, an interesting time we live in.