The week of January 10, 2016

The cyborgs of the future—and of today—need the Transhumanist Bill of Rights

By Zoltan Istvan

As a 2016 U.S. presidential candidate with nearly zero chance of winning, a lot of people ask me why I bother running at all. The answer is simple: The world is about to dramatically change because of radical transhumanist technology—and the most important thing our species can do about it is discuss it beforehand and prepare for it. Despite this unfolding paradigm shift that includes merging with machines and using science to transform ourselves, no major political candidates are even acknowledging such a transformation is happening with the human race. It’s crazy stupid, and it’s also irresponsible.

How radical is the science we’re talking about? Consider my recent stop to speak at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond—part of my Immortality Bus campaign tour. There were biohackers I met who were preparing to use home CRISPR kits to try to give their cells photosynthesis capabilities—so they could process solar rays and produce energy for their organs to use. Talk about a free lunch and solving world hunger at the same time.

Unfortunately, not only are many people skeptical or downright against transhumanist science like this, but some are already calling for a moratorium on this stuff. It’s attitudes like this that made me craft the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, which I recently delivered to the U.S. Capitol building as the finale to my bus tour. The simple, one-page document could easily be called a cyborg bill of rights—because at the core of it is language that tries to legalize all experimentation on one’s body, so long as the experimentation is not hurting others. (If being able to do with your body what you want seems reasonable and commonsense in the 21st century, just consider the massive abortion conflict in the U.S., or the failed trillion-dollar War on Drugs, and the fact that gay marriage was legalized just last year.)

The Transhumanist Bill of Rights seeks to legalize all experimentation on one’s body, so long as the experimentation is not hurting others.

As a civilization, we are still highly closed-minded and hopelessly religiously conservative. We need a bill of rights to protect our evolutionary aims. We need to protect people out there who want to cut off their arms to put on robotic ones. We need to support engineers who want to have electroencephalogram (EEG) brain implants installed so they commune directly with AI. We need to make exoskeleton suits for quadriplegics who want to climb Mount Everest. I even know transhumanists who want to become fish—and we must protect their right to do so, even if others want to remain primates.

It’s a brave new world. And people who want to do radical things to their bodies and the way they perceive the universe need protection—and that protection must be guaranteed. The great humanistic declarations of the world—like the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, crafted in 1948—simply don’t have the language to handle 21st-century science. They are stuck trying to make sure kids have a right to education, different ethnicities are treated equally, and people get holiday pay. I love the U.N. Declaration: It’s a magnificent achievement and a great basis for civil society. But it doesn’t say anything about whether a sentient artificial intelligence can be tortured. Or whether families living entirely in virtual reality have property and sovereignty rights. Or whether that robot that you sent to work for you also gets holiday pay.

The Transhumanist Bill of Rights is the beginning of an official process that aims to establish basic futurist-oriented rights for human beings, sentient AIs, cyborgs, and other advanced sapient life forms—in hopes we can avoid a transhumanist rights showdown that might rival the civil rights era in violence and chaos. For this reason, the Transhumanist Bill of Rights also makes it a crime to put moratoriums on science when it isn’t hurting others. Culture, religious perspectives, and ethnicity should have nothing to do with science moving forward or society’s health. For example, President George W. Bush should never have had the power to block federal funding for stem cell research during most of his two terms because of religious reasons—a misstep in American science that sent talented researchers overseas, some of whom never returned. In the same vein, must we really tolerate a pope who condemns condoms in Africa—a continent where millions die of AIDS, a known preventable disease?

The Transhumanist Bill of Rights also makes it a crime to put moratoriums on science when it isn’t hurting others.

For now, the Transhumanist Bill of Rights is with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, my democratic representative in California. And soon it will be sent to other governments around the world, as well as presented to the United Nations. Of course, the real power of it is not in its words—which may change through refinement—but in its obvious necessity in the 21st century. We are already in an era where as a society we are seeking to understand what kind of crime virtual rape is, or whether we can marry robots (and get tax deductions because of it), or whether both rich and poor should have total access to gene editing technologies that improve IQ in our children. Maybe CRISPR tech is not something that should be patentable or for hire, but a universal right to use it for the benefit and good of all.

The questions, of course, are endless—as are the thorny twists. And nearly every scientist and transhumanist will openly admit we have no idea how deep the rabbit hole of cyborgism goes. Add to all this that humans may soon not die because of rapid advances in anti-aging science, and the decisions we make as a society will forever impact us.

In the modern world we know, there’s no such thing as a universal bill of rights. The universe as we know it is changing too quickly with technology. The best we can do is be honest about it all—and get comfortable being transformed into the next phase of our evolving species: cyborgs.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, creator of the Immortality Bus, and the 2016 U.S. presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party.

Illustration by J. Longo