Politics, Science / Tech, Tech

Why Politics Needs the Futuristic Perspective

Politicians are constantly fighting for policies that future generations will find laughable at best, morally atrocious at worst. Just consider “Jobs for Everyone!” or “Build the Wall!”—except imagine it’s 100 years from now and there are no jobs or national borders…  Taking this 100-year view, many of the best-known politicians quickly fade into irrelevance. There is one political figure who comes prominently into focus in this view, however. That’s Zoltan Istvan, the unsuccessful but often newsworthy former candidate for US president and California governor.

Zoltan Istvan

Even if you’re opposed to libertarianism (Zoltan’s adopted political platform) and uninspired by tranhumanism (Zoltan’s political hobbyhorse), still, it’s worth considering the unique perspective Zoltan Istvan brings to our chronically shortsighted political landscape. Unlike any other political figure, he champions long-view causes like you’d never believe. Unapologetically, he’s one-hundred percent all-in for long-view causes.

Here’s a taste. If you were an interviewer, you’d likely want to ask Mr. Istvan about some hot button issue, like…abortion. Well—that’s an easy one! He’s a libertarian, so he’ll likely just begin by vocalizing libertarian standardisms. But then, if you stick around a while, you’ll hear something totally original—you’ll hear thoughts so far off the political talking point roadmap you’ll forget you’re interviewing a political candidate. Something like:

Before long, natural procreation and childbirth will likely be considered anachronistic. At that point, we’ll be making babies in artificial wombs, adjusting fetus DNA with gene editing technologies. There won’t be any such thing as abortion because babies will be meticulously planned and they’ll come out perfect—superhuman!—every time. So, abortion is scarcely worth discussing; in the near future, it will be a nonissue.

That’s a total paraphrase of his view, of course, but basically that’s the sort of place Zoltan’s futurist, transhumanist side goes. It goes way, way off charted territory. Even the most progressive, tech-friendly politician imaginable can’t touch Zoltan’s long-view.

On a practical level, who knows if Zoltan would make a good politician. His qualifications certainly don’t scream political pioneer. He was a journalist for National Geographic and then a real estate investor. But his political qualifications don’t matter so much. His vision is what’s important. I don’t even necessarily advocate for voting for Zoltan, but I do advocate for the proliferation of his long-view vision.

Take a second to consider that the World Wide Web was nonexistent at the start of 1990. The first iPhone went on sale in 2007. CRISPR-Cas9 was first harnessed for genome editing in 2013. Self-driving cars were in science fiction novels forever…but now they’re actually here. The biggest threat to our democracy is no longer Russian nuclear weapons, it’s Russian bots and trolls on social media. The greatest moral dilemma isn’t third-trimester abortion, it’s Chinese labs secretly breeding a new type of human using radical gene-editing techniques. It’s important to keep these things in perspective. The world is changing all around us…fast.

I work in Silicon Valley, so I probably have greater exposure to tech advances than most people. Still, I’m sure everyone has heard the following grievance at least a half a dozen times: “With all this new technology, the laws just can’t keep up!”

It’s true. And if this doesn’t worry you, it should. The difference between a near-utopia future and an outright dystopian future may come down to strategic government support and prudent government regulations with regard to new technologies. While most politicians spend their time worrying about soon-to-be-nonissues, there are whole new ethical and existential dilemmas coming on the scene that desperately need to be addressed—or, at the very least, discussed.

Enter the futurist’s vision. Grappling with long-view issues, a politician like Zoltan’s fundamental proposal is that we take scientific research seriously. He proposes picking up the entire military budget (or as much as possible) and throwing it at science. That may sound insane, but if you stand back and consider it a moment…you can start to realize how much we could potentially accomplish with $700 billion annually. With $700 billion dollars thrown at cancer research, diabetes research, heart disease research, clean energy, artificial intelligence, and a few other choice issues—you could really re-shape the health of the United States.

Many of Zoltan’s futuristic political positions are related in some way to this fundamental proposal of turning the military-industrial complex into a science-industrial complex. To mention a few, his positions include using technology to stop mass shootings, supporting controversial but inevitable science projects (like genetic engineering, nanotechnology, chip implant technology…), using technological innovations to reverse climate change, providing meaningful aid to victims of the drug war, and (since he welcomes robots taking mundane, soul-sucking jobs) embracing universal basic income.

The political landscape will probably always be some sort of clownish spectacle. But all that spectacle doesn’t have to be irrelevant to our future prosperity. What if all the Trump voters weren’t scared of immigrants taking their jobs, but instead were scared of robots taking their jobs (a much more likely scenario)? Would Trump have used the billions of dollars he’s squandering on the border to instead take steps to implement universal basic income? Or what if Trump voters weren’t scared of nuclear attacks, but instead were scared of pandemic flu viruses that, according to Bill Gates, could kill 30 million people? Would Trump take the seven billion dollars he just gave to the military-industrial complex and instead create a science-industrial complex that could help prevent infectious diseases?

In other words, maybe we don’t necessarily need smarter voters and maybe we could even live with a goofy-haired McDonald’s-eating TV celebrity president—if we as a nation all started taking the long view in determining which issues to care about. And to get there, we may need more futuristic politicians like Zoltan Istvan. Hopefully it just won’t take a full century for us to realize this.


Peter Clarke is a Silicon Valley-based writer with a BA in psychology and a JD in intellectual property law.


  1. Saturn Black says

    Yet another left-wing utopia.

    See you in the gulags, guys.

      • Saturn Black says

        Reading Nomad – Well at this rate I’ll likely be seeing you in court long before the gulags, as it seems you just can’t stop yourself from continuing to follow me around and attack every comment I make.

        • @ Saturn Black

          Pal! If you have got a death wish… leave the rest of us out of it. You really are a disturbed soul. I hope there is someone in your life looking after you.

          • Saturn Black says

            Reading Nomad – you really are an astonishingly toxic person to encourage me to think about suicide. How many times have I told you to leave me alone? And yet you continue to attack and attack. You never engage with my ideas, you just seek to destroy me. I have attempted suicide several times in the past, including jumping off a bridge, and no, there is nobody in my life who cares whether I am alive or dead. So the most likely outcome of your continual harassment is that I will carry out the suicide plan I’ve had for several months now, and leave a note explaining that the final tipping point was online harassment from you. Of course the authorities wouldn’t care enough to investigate, and you’d simply carry on with your attacks and maybe make a few more people commit suicide along the way. I’m sure the idea of that would even excite you. And people wonder why I struggle to socialise. It’s because every time I try, I run into someone like you who starts cutting me down from the very first comment I make, and never stops until I’m dead.

            Obviously Quillette is happy to give people like you free reign to cause as much damage as you can.

            I’m going to head up to the nearby cliffs tomorrow and see how I feel when I get there. Either way I won’t be returning to this website again.

          • @ Saturn Black

            Lol! I wish you the best of luck and you still manage to turn that into nastiness.

            “You never engage with my ideas”

            No one can. There aren’t any.

            “Either way I won’t be returning to this website again.”

            Oh the merciful lord!

    • Alex Russell says

      In what way, shape or form was this article regarding a “left wing Utopia”? None. Mr. SB seems to see the world through a peculiar lens which transforms all that is not familiar into a left-wing conspiracy.

      Today, with our current technology I think most people will agree that free market capitalism properly regulated by the government, plus a modest to generous social safety net provides the best standard of living. Given today’s technological trends it is not a left-wing fantasy that robots will be doing all the boring, dangerous, or simply unwanted jobs in the not so far future. When that happens does capitalism make sense? A basic universal income is something any sensible person would consider.

      You have to think your brand of government/economic system is sacred to dismiss out of hand any change to it.

  2. Daniel says

    I can only assume either this article is a joke or the author is. In the second sentence he suggests that in 100 years there are no jobs? How exactly is everything about humanity going to change in order for this to happen? Human nature will have to change, where there will be no boredom, drive for satisfaction, or demand for material things. Society will have to change so that people can have food, shelter and transportation for free. That’s some dystopian BS that would make Big Brother and Uncle Joe look like capitalists in comparison.
    There’s a reason people haven’t considered Zoltan’s perspective before. What a waste of time reading this article!

    • Bill says

      Not only that, but in his example case of the discussion on abortion — clearly, the only reason for abortion is imperfection. We’ll be engineering kids, so “fluid exchange” will be a thing of the past ala Demolition Man? Yeah, sure. Those “Future People” will just live lives of abstinence, that’s the trend we’ve seen in young people now for what, 40 years? /snark

      • SpiceIsNice says

        They’ll all be sterilized of course. Or only having sex with realistic sex dolls. Utopia or something.

      • TarsTarkas says

        Engineering and growing new voters! What could possibly go wrong? BTW, who will be in charge of the sex ratios of these ‘new-style’ children? If it’s a third-wave feminist, or an incel, the human species would be in a lot of trouble. BTW, it would make transgenderism extinct, because of course you could not conceivably be born into the wrong body! And we haven’t even discussed the possibility of granting citizenship to Artificially Intelligent robots coming off the assembly line. Zager and Evans were prescient!

        For an interesting take on life without men, read Alice Sheldon’s ‘Houston, Houston, do you read?’ She’s a bit heavy-handed with the male characters, but still a fascinating read.

    • Alex Russell says

      Did you miss the part about robots doing all the work?

      More jobs have been lost to automation than to offshoring in the USA in the last 30 years. The advance sin computing power ad AI will accelerated this trend. 100 years is a bit optimistic, but the day most or all “work” is automated is coming. Then what form of government and economics will make sense? Likely not today’s mix of capitalism and social programs.

      So you cannot imagine being satisfied pursuing your personal interests instead of “working”? If you happen to want to run a cafe you’ll still be able to. If you want to paint all day, you’ll be able to do that.

  3. John AD says

    So, Zoltan is a libertarian (I assume in the modern, US sense) but wants to take “$700 billion [tax] dollars [to throw] at cancer research, diabetes research, heart disease research, clean energy, artificial intelligence, and a few other choice issues” and “[embrace] universal basic income”. Then there’s the author’s own observation that “The difference between a near-utopia future and an outright dystopian future may come down to strategic government support and prudent government regulations”. I find this typical of libertarian thinking. They abhor the idea of government intervention but then, when applying a modicum of thought, realise the neccesary and supremely beneficial role that government can have. (The simple understanding of the tragedy of the commons should shut up anti-government rhetoric). Yes, let’s divert tax spending from the military to science and things such as environmental regulation (inc. carbon taxing).

    “Self driving cars … are already here”. No, they’re not, unless you count tightly circumscribed scenarios. Driving is massively more complex than highway travel, or the negotiation of junctions on a relatively benign road network, or similar scenarios. The modern vogue for anticipation of the robots taking over is irritating (and futurist types doubly so). I too work in tech. My perception of progress is vastly different from Zoltan’s. Yes, the iPhone and its ilk is impressive. But have you noticed what gets highlighted in reviews of new models these days: how near the edge of the phone does the screen get; how the front facing camera is integrated into the screen; the camera resolution and storage size (so more inane holiday photos can be created). Progress is not necessarily smoothly exponential.

    • Peter from Oz says

      Libertarians are often reformed marxists. So they often have the same MO as marxists,and place the same importance on politics even whilst defying government.
      As a Tory, I don’t believe that all government is evil, but that we should always balance the loss of freedom implicit in government action against the good that any government policy would produce. The unintended consequences of so much government policy since the war are such that I think you can make a good argument that government is much overrated.

    • Perhaps, but the primary idea is that we use the collective to fund research in public/private universities, not to own the means of production or tell people what they can and cannot do. Cooperation within a nation is not anti-liberty. As information flows rapidly, globally, the idea of IP will get trickier, like the fear we have of China “stealing” the IP that we rather instead ship out for all to reverse engineer (or follow the specification for manufacturing).

  4. Michael Savage says

    I find your idea of a utopian future a little scary. Sincerely, Michael Savage.

  5. Peter from Oz says

    I have two questions. If Zoltan Istvan is a libertarian, why is he so hung up on big government?
    Secondly, why does this writer think that people who don’t want their culture adulterated are somehow only worried about foreigners taking their jobs.
    We in the upper middle class are often divorced from the culture of our countries. Too often we make the mistake of thinking that the working class whites should behave Ike us. But what we forget is that Mr Smith the factory worker isn’t going to be living next to Mr Ali the entrepreneur who now jets between Singapore, Sydney and London and who was at school in England with the son of Mr Fortescue, the CEO of the company where Mr Smith works. No, the immigrants that Mr Smith meets will be much less skilled, have a totally different worldview to Mr Smith and will clump together so as to turn parts of Mr Smith’s hometown into a cut down version of their homeland. And it won’t be a lovely quaint village that they replicate. Mr Smith will then be treated like stranger in part of his own land. If Mr Smith objects or even wishes to uphold his own culture he will be labelled as an evil racist by the likes of the writer of this article.
    I really wish wannabe cosmopolitans would stop trying to obliterate the culture they are trying to escape. It is their fear of being found out for the uncultured yobbos that they are, that makes them demonise the poor old Mr Smith’s of this world.
    All the writer of this article needs to realise is that when the culture of all the Mr Smiths is gone, and the ethnic ghettos have formed, it will not be the wannabe, new class oafs who will be in power, but the leaders of the migrants. The law and order that Mr Ali, Mr Fortescue and their wannabe enablers rely upon so they can invent all those things that so exercise the mind of Mr Istvan will be gone. Mr Istvan was so hung up on tech, that he forgot human nature and the social repercussions of inane liberalism.

    • Saturn Black says

      Excellent points. This is exactly what Lauren Southern exposed in her recent visit to Lakemba, and the media went all out in undermining her credibility so people wouldn’t take any notice of it. Fortunately YouTube haven’t also shut her down (yet), so some of us are still able to look directly through the veneer of lies to see what is really happening on the ground. I live in “the most white and mono-ethnic area in Australia” (according to census) and wouldn’t ever venture out towards Lakemba, so I wouldn’t know these ethnic ghettos even existed without the work of journalists like her.

      Surely we will start to see more ethnic ghettos forming as the current immigration rate is nearly double our birth rate, and the massive backlash against Senator Anning’s recent anti-Muslim-immigration speech seems to show that at the very least, the majority of media and government are pro-immigration. I did recently read about “white flight” from certain areas of Sydney’s inner west as more and more foreigners take over as well.

      Immigration is wrecking our country in so many ways, and we need a leader who stands up and tries to tackle the problem and doesn’t cower before the media assassins.

      • Unfortunately, many upper middle class people are in pure denial and afraid of acknowledging the reality they promoted. As long as their protected suburb remains expensive and out of reach of foreigners, they will keep consuming propaganda movies for upper middle class women.

      • @Saturn Black regarding the last paragraph:

        All we ask in the U.S. is that immigration be controlled (like it used to be) and that the people coming here want to be a part of this culture – and add to it. In his own godzilla-like way that’s what Trump is saying too. His political enemies and our own media assassins will concede nothing, not a shred of common sense is too small to be opposed.

        I hear ‘ya pal, they will not rest until the entire Anglo-sphere is a hell-hole of tribal and ethnic ghettos.

  6. OK, its pretty off the wall but so were a lot of things 25 years ago that we take for granted now, couldn’t do without etc,
    But its Universal Basic Income I can’t get my head around, especially from a libertarian! I think we can assume the the provider will be the philanthropic state? Problem with that is its with our money!
    But the really big problem is the State would be in effect controlling our lives, this is the scenario we all dread, the primacy of the state and the control they would have over us, in other words it would be back to totalitarianism

    • Pi79 says

      I am a libertarian as well, which is why I support basic income along Milton Friedman line of thinking. In essence, it may be a lot more efficient to distribute money to individuals then for it to get lost / squandered in opaque, inefficient and bureaucratic system. Imagine replacing most of the government agencies / officials and all the special interests that go along with it with a simple algorithm that just distributes the funds in a way more transparent and efficient way. Of course, in the ideal world, we would not have any type of a re-distribution system and individuals would purely only rely on their own abilities. However, any type of labor dislocation (technological etc.) would introduce immense levels of social volatility in such a perfectly fair system.

      • peanut gallery says

        We already live in a welfare state, might as well try to make it work. Good luck trying to take any aspect of it away now that the largess has been granted.

        • Saturn Black says

          If you give people money without making them work for it, you’re just enabling laziness. This has an increasingly paralysing effect the longer it goes on, as people become more entitled and less willing to contribute anything at all. If everything is taken care of, there’s no reason not to live a life of leisure.

          Working-age Muslim women in Australia have the lowest workforce participation rate of any other subgroup. 60% of them are on welfare. They are getting a free ride and contributing nothing to our society. If you want to know what your UBI looks like, take a look at the Australian welfare system. It’s a complete disgrace. People blow all their hard-earned superannuation on lavish holidays so they can qualify for the retirement age pension – this is called “middle-class welfare.” Pretty much everyone tries to find loopholes for free money. It’s part of our national culture. Even our major centre-right party supports a high degree of welfare, and the major centre-left party wants to run completely wild with it. We are a nation of dole bludgers and welfare cheats, which is why we are terrible at competitions like Australian Survivor – competitions that rely on personal initiative that is formed by having to work to achieve everything in life.

          We spend about half our federal budget on welfare, next to nothing on the military, and rely mostly on the USA to protect us in matters of national defence. When you consider how little the USA spends on welfare and how much they spend on the military, it looks to me like our welfare recipients are basically just leeching off the hard work of the American taxpayer.

          The USA should stop being so generous to leech nations like Australia and force us to stand on our own two feet and figure things like defence out for ourselves. We could have conquered half the South Pacific by now if we had any national initiative whatsoever, stopped propping up lazy Muslims and got more of our boys into the military.

          • ga gamba says

            When you consider how little the USA spends on welfare…

            The USA spends an enormous sum on benefits, be it measured as a dollar figure, a percent of all government spending (federal, state & local), and a percent of GDP. About 50% of US government spending (federal, state & local) is for benefits and welfare entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. The total of all government spending is 35.5% of GDP of which defence is 4.2%, Social Security pension is 6.8%, Medicare is 7.9%, and welfare is 2.3%. Often news reports of US benefits spending only covers the federal side to create an illusion; nevertheless, the total of American state and local gov’t budgets is almost equal to the federal budget. Source: https://www.usgovernmentspending.com/percent_gdp

            OECD data provides more granularity, finding that net US spending on social expenditure, which is what the organisation calls welfare spending, in 2013 (the most recent year it’s available) was 28.8% of GDP. When the social expenditure excludes voluntary expenditures, which include insurance and that by tax-deductible NGO’s, the expenditure was 19.3% of GDP in 2016, the most recent year of data. This puts the US in the league of Australia (19.1%), Canada (17.2%), New Zealand (19.7% in 2015), and Switzerland (19.7%). Iceland was 15.2% and South Korea 10.4%. For some reason the press and the activists tend to fixate on Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Source: https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=SOCX_AGG

            You are correct that most American allies have cut their defence spending considerably and have fallen well below levels agreed to. There is a strong argument to be made that Europe, with a population of 640m (510m in EU) and a EU GDP (nominal) of about $20t has the manpower and the wealth to defend itself. By population it’s more than 4 times larger than Russia and it’s about 17 times wealthier. Europe also doesn’t share the Russian need to keep an eye on China.

      • ga gamba says

        … I support basic income along Milton Friedman line of thinking.

        You can’t leave that undefined when linked to UBI, as it is by way of Richard’s comment, because readers may infer Friedman was an advocate of UBI. He wasn’t. It’s negative income tax (NIT) that he proposed. This means that only the poor are recipients, thus it’s absolutely not universal – unless everyone becomes impoverished, in which case you have more serious problems. The institutions and administrators of the benefits system for the poor would be made redundant because the poor are no longer their wards. Recipients are cut a cheque and, as free people equal to all others, they may spend their money as they wish. And days later the left are whingeing about the recipients’ starving children going to bed hungry because the money was spent irresponsibly, as some of it will inevitably be – that’s life.

        For those of you who don’t know what NIT is, here’s an example.
        Income tax rate is 50%
        The tax exemption is £20,000. The difference between this and a sum less than it is negative income. A percent of the negative income is provided as a subsidy.
        The subsidy rate is 50%.
        A person earning £0 would receive £10k. (20,000 – 0) x 0.5 = 10,000
        A person earning £10,000 would receive £5k. (20,000 – 10,000) x 0.5 = 5,000
        A person earning £100,000 would receive nothing and pay £40k in tax. (20,000 – 100,000) x 0.5 equals = -40,000.

        Anyone earning £20,000 and more is not subsidised.

        • Pi79 says

          “You can’t leave that undefined when linked to UBI, as it is by way of Richard’s comment, because readers may infer Friedman was an advocate of UBI.”

          Excellent point, should have been more specific in my comment, but great summary for those who are not familiar with his approach.

          • ga gamba says

            Thanks for taking that well, pi. I keep running across leftists, and even journalists, claiming Friedman advocated UBI. Friedman advocated a compassionate yet dignified approach to the poor that recognised their need but didn’t treat them as incompetents and have them account for their purchases to the bureaucracy. Of course, some will behave recklessly and endanger others, such as their children. We’re going to have to come to peace with that and have NGOs or others render assistance when needed. The same risk resides in UBI too. But UBI advocates over the years have dropped their proposals to eliminate the benefits bureaucracy, which I suspect is why the left jumped aboard because many of them work in the civil service.

        • TarsTarkas says

          NIT just like UBI penalizes the ambitious and hard-working, the only difference being that it’s not universal. This is the problem with means-tested subsidies; the more you earn, the less financial help you get, so what’s the point in earning more? I personally know a girl who had to have her hours cut to avoid crossing the income limit for child care support, and I’m sure there’s many others. Seattle found out the hard way when they raised the minimum wage; many workers voluntarily worked less so to still qualify for subsidies (not that it’s stopped Seattle from passing other lunatic laws). What we need is needs-tested subsidies based upon your individual and/or family requirements, that applies ONLY to working people, to cut down on having children to increase your draw on the dole.

  7. Daniel says

    Ever notice that Universal Basic Income is only discussed in terms of how to get it, or how the gov’t should distribute it? Nobody is saying, “Hey! I’m rich; come get your UBI here.”

  8. LVaras says

    Oh dystopian fiction, how the hypocrisy glares through your one way glass. Destroy the government but we need a trillion dollars to solve all the issues while the (combined) multi trillion dollars industries profiting off of them who would be defunct just step aside. Let’s forget the issues of today and focus only 100 (not 99, not 101) years in the future, but let’s not forget the issues of today! [Insert ad hominum attack on the president here] but hey Mr President, can you give us free money?

  9. David Turnbull says

    Taking the defence budget and throwing it at cancer, diabetes, heart, etc. research will have little impact. Why? Because we don’t have enough smart people to take advantage of the money presently being thrown at these problems. Only a small fraction of those occupied in research right now have what it takes to make a useful contribution. I say this as a retired physicist who spent the last years of his career as a frequent reviewer for a number of top tier journals.

    • This is one of the many taboos of academia. Making PhDs the new degree for reasonably smart and hardworking people is insanity. They do nothing productive during their PhD except learn to write bullshit and paperwork to get published. In France, we designed nuclear, space and high speed train technology in state monopoly industries with engineers who never practised academic research. Today, we are more and more told to do a useless PhD because it’s excepted internationally and more and more you cannot lead corporate R&D departments without a PhD. Normal research engineers are more and more expected to have a PhD. This ridiculous degree inflation must be reversed and years of higher education reduced.

    • ga gamba says

      Watch the mission creep as many non-STEM departments start including “science studies” to line their pocket too. We see this presently happening in bona fide STEM departments that are coerced to hire the gender and racial warriors to bring inclusivity, diversity, and equity to their students in courses that are mandated to “demonstrate our commitment”.

  10. SpiceIsNice says

    Some of this is on the mark, other things less so. The idea that throwing more money at science will spontaneously result in revolutionary discoveries is pretty, what’s the word, utopian. Of course we do need science to stay ahead of the game, including militarily. Especially if China is breeding super soldiers. And they could be developing Rods-from-God-type weaponry as we speak. A strong military isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. (Space Force!)

    Also illegal immigration isn’t something to be downplayed, it’s a humanitarian crisis for everyone involved (save for the crooks & crimelords who profit from it). If democracy is to have a future, it better have borders to go along with it. Pipedreams of global government are a recipe for disaster.

  11. Caligula says

    ” the World Wide Web was nonexistent at the start of 1990. The first iPhone went on sale in 2007. CRISPR-Cas9 was first harnessed for genome editing in 2013. Self-driving cars were in science fiction novels forever but now they’re actually here.”

    Self-driving cars may have been “in science fiction novels forever,” but how many such novels predicted smartphones? To see why few are interested in a “hundred year view,” just look at the hundred year views produced 100 years ago.

    ” imagine it’s 100 years from now and there are no jobs or national borders” Or perhaps the collapse of national borders brought about not a borderless world, but a world consisting of many thousands of viciously defended county-sized states? Just as today is not as futurists imagined it, tomorrow will not be as you imagine it.

    “you can start to realize how much we could potentially accomplish with $700 billion annually. With $700 billion dollars thrown at cancer research, diabetes research, heart disease research, clean energy, artificial intelligence, and a few other choice issues you could really re-shape the health of the United States.”

    Or not. Funding research inevitably produces diminishing returns, as not only researchers but avenues of research are limited. “Grappling with long-view issues” may be fun, but it’s unlikely to identify where research is most likely to pay big dividends.

    “That may sound insane …”? Mostly it just sounds un-imaginative. The future is seldom an extrapolation of present trends, and almost surely will be far stranger than you can imagine.

    “if we as a nation all started taking the long view” we will see only fog. Did you notice all those 1980s predictions that the Soviet Union was in its final decade? Or was “conventional wisdom” that then-Pres. Reagan was an old fool, and an enlightened futurist would recognize would recognize the need to forge a lasting detente between the U.S. and Soviet blocs?

    “The political landscape will probably always be some sort of clownish spectacle.” Perhaps, but, have you looked in a mirror lately? Democracy is unruly and messy as compared with expert-guided technocraticy. Wanna trade?

    Most of us understand that utopians have a dismal track record, that shouts of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!” often predict not utopia but the coming of the gullotines, that shouts of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”” predicts not freedom and plenty but the Gulag Archipelago. Yet you assert that your technocratic “paradise” would somehow be different?

  12. There’s just something paradoxical about trans-humanism. It is driving the force to change humanity while having as its source this very humanity it tries to surpass. A bit like worrying about the world after one’s death, given one doesn’t believe in afterlife.
    And at the same time an amazing smugness of Silicon prophets having little doubts about what exactly constitutes human nature and what makes us happy.
    They are just so confident that the less we move and make decisions the happier we are.

  13. “The greatest moral dilemma isn’t third-trimester abortion, it’s Chinese labs secretly breeding a new type of human using radical gene-editing techniques. It’s important to keep these things in perspective.”

    A Chinese lab secretly breeding genetic mutants is not MORE morally significant than millions of persons having their lives ended each year.

    This is just lazy writing. Back your statements up.

  14. Mark Beal says

    The futuristic stuff is frankly downright scary. Techno-optimists just come about as unbearably naïve most of the time. Not because technology hasn’t and doesn’t change society for the better, but because their infatuation with the stuff prevents them seeing that technology can and has also had a major negative impact on society – you’d think a libertarian would be able to imagine the kind of nefarious uses governments might potentially make of “genetic engineering, nanotechnology, chip implant technology,” and at the very least shudder at the thought, but apparently not.

    However, there is an important point hiding in the article, and that is the ability (or inability) of politics to take the long view. Because of the electoral cycle, politicians are notoriously myopic, far too concerned with policies that will get them (and their party) re-elected. This could be remedied by introducing or replacing second chambers with elected officials (with no party affiliation) who sit for a longish term (say 10 to 15 years), who are specifically elected to take the long view and vote in accordance with it – thus opposing policies that have some positives in the short term, but mostly negatives in the long term (and vice versa) – and who cannot be re-elected to any office, thus removing (as much as one can) self-interest, at least of the electoral kind.

    I don’t claim this as a panacea, but having politicians whose job was to ask what the introduction of any given technology might mean 30, 40, 50 years down the line might act as a useful corrective in political systems where an important part of any policy decision is how it will impact on voting behaviour at the next general election.

  15. Or the world will fall upon the largest numbers of people, not the brightest and most libertarian, who will do as we see happening the world over, a return to nationalism and “protectionist” trade and authoritarianism. We’re heading more towards dystopia than utopia, at least if you prefer individual rights over the collective rights.

  16. X. Citoyen says

    Re: “I work in Silicon Valley, so I probably have greater exposure to tech advances than most people.”

    You also have greater exposure to tech-utopianism. If you had a little more exposure to tech-realism, you’d know the one lesson from the technological advances of the last 100 years: No one can predict how it will go. You say we need UBI for workers displaced by robots. Your counterpart in the 1950s was advising us to build sky highways for flying cars.

    Re: “With $700 billion dollars thrown at cancer research, diabetes research, heart disease research, clean energy, artificial intelligence…”

    Here in the real world you’d be buying $700 billion in rent-seekers. You can’t create the scientific and technical expertise—or the right motivation—out of money. A million second-rate researchers will produce nothing but a million second-rate research papers.

    Re: “The political landscape will probably always be some sort of clownish spectacle.”

    Clowns are preferable to visionaries, so let’s hope you’re right.

    Re: “What if all the Trump voters weren’t scared of immigrants taking their jobs, but instead were scared of robots taking their jobs (a much more likely scenario)?”

    Immigrants are taking their jobs and deflating their wages, so the only scenario here is robots taking their jobs. How likely is it? Well, all precedents point to the opposite outcome: Past innovations have led to more jobs, not fewer.

    Re: “we may need more futuristic politicians like Zoltan Istvan.”

    No thanks. We already have far too many visionaries in politics. We need way more plain old representatives.

  17. Mark says

    I’m very skeptical of any “utopia”, because most of us here know where such thinking leads us. See socialism for examples throughout the 20th century.

    Take the military budget and throw it at science? I’m sure the Russians and Chinese would love that. What nonsense. And a libertarian extolling the virtues of Big Government?

    The biggest threat to our democracy remains the same: We are ourselves the biggest threat. Not anyone else.

    The author needs to leave his Silicon Valley bubble. This is ridiculous stuff, and this is why Twitter/Facebook/etc are censoring so much content online… they are completely and utterly divorced from reality.

  18. Farris says

    One question for Zoltan and the author. How much of the science 100 years ago was wrong? If people thought this way 100+ years ago, we would have probably have the U.S. Department of Alchemy or the Office of Phrenology.
    The notion of rejecting the concerns of present day voters for the potential populace of a brave new world sounds like a winning platform. The author presumes to know what the future will look like. Certainly history teaches it’s more prudent to prepare for the next totalitarian threat than to presume peace and stability for the next 100 years. The author tells Zoltan’s stance on abortion. His position on climate change would be much more informative. I can’t help but wonder if this is nothing more than a reformulation of the old argument, “do it for the children”. 700 billion to the Dept. Of Science because throwing government money at a problem always solves it and how many of our recent innovations have been produced by government funding? The best way to prepare for the future is to protect the freedoms of the present or we could fall to our knees and give hosannas to Silicon Valley.

  19. michael says

    What a silly article. The criticisms that have preceded my comment have covered most of the points i would like to make. Mr Clarke could read “Brave New World” but that is so last century.
    In Australia (and i imagine in most other OECD nations) people already have a de facto UBI. As well as a basic unemployment income and related supports, they receive excellent no/low cost medical care, low/no cost K12 education (not so excellent) and access to almost all the knowledge of the world at the swipe of a finger. We are unimaginably wealthy compared to our grandparents.
    About 50% of the population actually pay the taxes to support the rest. While the very small proportion of persons who actually create the wealth carry us all on their backs while taking a very nice slice for themselves..
    That is what a service economy looks like and IMHO it works very well indeed.

  20. didn’t take long to realize that this guy is not a libertarian. the reality that no one seems to get is that of every system we’ve ever tried to implement anywhere, capitalism is the only one that really works. IMHO, it works because it is the closest system to mimic human nature, which is at it core, always supremely competitive. you do things for the community because it will benefit you somehow. everyone needs to produce, to earn their keep…

    • Alex Russell says

      And the people living in Europe in the 11th century knew for certain that feudalism was the only way for people to produce, to earn their keep. Then technology changed and 95% of the population wasn’t farmers.

      Now, robots aren’t going to do all the work in 100 years, but it is going to happen. Even in the last 30 years more jobs have been lost to automation than to offshoring and globalization in the USA. this trend is likely to continue. do we just wait for things to explode in revolution, or do we actually plan for the future? Do we try out some form of universal income and see how it actually works? do we try other experiments? Just crying out “it works now, it will work forever” is not a good answer.

  21. Circuses_And_Bread says

    What I find fascinating and a bit disappointing about this article on the future of politics was that it did not question a very basic premise: that politics as we know it will even exist in the future. I don’t see that because with the march of technology, people with relatively modest means will increasingly be able to opt out of the larger political order, and organize themselves into relatively small enclaves/tribes/neighborhoods.

    How does a universal, basic income work when those members of society who would presumably pay for it can instead opt out within their own self-sufficient enclaves?

    The author seems to be trapped in a paradigm of politics being relevant when post-political is probably a more accurate description of the future.

  22. No national borders in about 100 years? I guess we can expect the United States to be the most populous country in the world in the not too distant future. Luckily I am fairly young and expect to live to be at least 100 so I can vote against this so called future Utopia for decades to come.

  23. Steve Scotten says

    Robert Heinlein published “The Puppet Masters” in 1951. In his imagined near future, flying cars were normal, but computers still used vacuum tubes and were usually down when you needed them most. (They were, of course, also huge, expensive, and available only to those with millions to spend on them.) Further, after several nuclear wars, every well-appointed house had its own air supply and could serve as a fallout shelter. Our ability to predict the future is nowhere near good enough to make the kinds of huge bets proposed in this article.

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