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Review of Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting” by Adam Alonzi

Review of Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting” by Adam Alonzi

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Adam Alonzi


Alexander Consulting the Oracle of Apollo, Louis Jean Francois Lagrenée. 1789, Oil on Canvas.

“All who drink of this treatment recover in a short time, except those whom it does not help, who all die. It is obvious, therefore, that it fails only in incurable cases.”

-Galen

Before the advent of evidence-based medicine, most physicians took an attitude like Galen’s toward their prescriptions. If their remedies did not work, surely the fault was with their patient. For centuries scores of revered doctors did not consider putting bloodletting or trepanation to the test. Randomized trials to evaluate the efficacy of a treatment were not common practice. Doctors like Archie Cochrane, who fought to make them part of standard protocol, were met with fierce resistance. Philip Tetlock, author of Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (2015), contends that the state of forecasting in the 21st century is strikingly similar to medicine in the 19th. Initiatives like the Good Judgement Project (GJP), a website that allows anyone to make predictions about world events, have shown that even a discipline that is largely at the mercy of chance can be put on a scientific footing.

More than once the author reminds us that the key to success in this endeavor is not what you think or what you know, but how you think. For Tetlock pundits like Thomas Friedman are the “exasperatingly evasive” Galens of the modern era. In the footnotes he lets the reader know he chose Friedman as target strictly because of his prominence. There are many like him. Tetlock’s academic work comparing random selections with those of professionals led media outlets to publish, and a portion of their readers to conclude, that expert opinion is no more accurate than a dart-throwing chimpanzee. What the undiscerning did not consider, however, is not all of the experts who participated failed to do better than chance.

Daniel Kahneman hypothesized that “attentive readers of the New York Times…may be only slightly worse” than these experts corporations and governments so handsomely recompense. This turned out to be a conservative guess. The participants in the Good Judgement Project outperformed all control groups, including one composed of professional intelligence analysts with access to classified information. This hodgepodge of retired bird watchers, unemployed programmers, and news junkies did 30% better than the “pros.” More importantly, at least to readers who want to gain a useful skillset as well as general knowledge, the managers of the GJP have identified qualities and ways of thinking that separate “superforecasters” from the rest of us. Fortunately they are qualities we can all cultivate.

While the merits of his macroeconomic theories can be debated, John Maynard Keynes was an extremely successful investor during one of the bleakest periods in international finance. This was no doubt due in part to his willingness to make allowance for new information and his grasp of probability. Participants in the GJP display open-mindedness, an ability and willingness to repeatedly update their forecasts, a talent to neither under- nor over-react to new information by putting it into a broader context,  and a predilection for mathematical thinking (though those interviewed admitted they rarely used an explicit equation to calculate their answer). The figures they give also tend to be more precise than their less successful peers. This “granularity” may seem ridiculous at first. I must confess that when I first saw estimates on the GJP of 34% or 59%, I would chuckle a bit. How, I asked myself, is a single percentage point meaningful? Aren’t we just dealing with rough approximations? Apparently not.

Tetlock reminds us that the GJP does not deal with nebulous questions like “Who will be president in 2027?” or “Will a level 9 earthquake hit California two years from now?” However, there are questions that are not, in the absence of unforeseeable Black Swan events, completely inscrutable. Who will win the Mongolian presidency? Will Uruguay sign a trade agreement with Laos in the next six months? These are parts of highly complex systems, but they can be broken down into tractable subproblems.

Using numbers instead of words like “possibly”, “probably”, “unlikely”, etc., seems unnatural. It gives us wiggle room and plausible deniability. They also cannot be put on any sort of record to keep score of how well we’re doing. Still, to some it may seem silly, pedantic, or presumptuous. If Joint Chiefs of Staff had given the exact figure they had in mind (3 to 1) instead of the “fair chance” given to Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs debacle may have never transpired. Because they represent ranges of values instead of single numbers, words can be retroactively stretched or shrunk to make blunders seem a little less avoidable. This is good for advisors looking to cover their hides by hedging their bets, but not so great for everyone else.

If American intelligence agencies had presented the formidable but vincible figure of 70% instead of a “slam dunk” to Congress, a disastrous invasion and costly occupation would have been prevented. At this point it is hard not to see the invasion as anything as a mistake, but even amidst these emotions we must be wary of hindsight. Still, a 70% chance of being right means there is a 30% chance of being wrong. It is hardly a “slam dunk.” No one would feel completely if an oncologist told them they are 70% sure the growth is not malignant. There are enormous consequences to sloppy communications. However, those with vested interests are more than content with this approach if it agrees with them, even if it ends up harming them.

When Nate Silver put the odds of the 2008 election in Obama’s favor, he was panned by Republicans as a pawn of the liberal media. He was quickly reviled by Democrats when he foresaw a Republican takeover of the Senate. It is hard to be a wizard when the king, his court, and all the merry peasants sweeping the stables would not know a confirmation bias from their right foot. To make matters worse, confidence is widely equated with capability. This seems to be doubly true of groups of people, particularly when they are choosing a leader. A mutual-fund manager who tells his clients they will see great returns on a company is viewed as stronger than a Poindexter prattling on about Bayesian inference and risk management.

The GJP’s approach has not spread far — yet. At this time most pundits, consultants, and self-proclaimed sages do not explicitly quantify their success rates, but this does not stop corporations, NGOs, and institutions at all levels of government from paying handsomely for the wisdom of untested soothsayers. Perhaps they have a few diplomas, but most cannot provide compelling evidence for expertise in haruspicy (sans the sheep’s liver). Given the criticality of accurate analyses to saving time and money, it would seem as though a demand for methods to improve and assess the quality of foresight would arise. Yet for the most part individuals and institutions continue to happily grope in the dark, unaware of the necessity for feedback when they misstep — afraid of having their predictions scrutinized or having to take the pains to scrutinize their predictions.

David Ferrucci is wary of the “guru model” to settling disputes. No doubt you’ve witnessed or participated in this kind of whimpering fracas: one person presents a Krugman op-ed to debunk a Niall Ferguson polemic, which is then countered with a Tommy Friedman book, which was recently excoriated  by the newest leader of the latest intellectual cult to come out of the Ivy League. In the end both sides leave frustrated. Krugman’s blunders regarding the economic prospects of the Internet, deflation, the “imminent” collapse of the euro (said repeatedly between 2010 and 2012) are legendary. Similarly, Ferguson, who strongly petitioned the Federal Reserve to reconsider quantitative easing, lest the United States suffer Weimar-like inflation, has not yet been vindicated. He and his colleagues responded in the same way as other embarrassed prophets: be patient, it has not happened, but it will! In his defense, more than one clever person has criticized the way governments calculate their inflation rates…

Paul Ehrlich, a darling of environmentalist movement, has screeched about the detonation of a “population bomb” for decades. Civilization was set to collapse between 15 and 30 years from 1970. During the interim 100 to 200 million would annually starve to death, by the year 2000 no crude oil would be left, the prices of raw materials would skyrocket, and the planet would be in the midst of a perpetual famine. Tetlock does not mention Ehrlich, but he is, particularly given his persisting influence on Greens, as or more deserving of a place in this hall of fame as anyone else. Larry Kudlow continued to assure the American people that the Bush tax breaks were producing massive economic growth. This continued well into 2008, when he repeatedly told journalists that America was not in a recession and the Bush boom was “alive and well.” For his stupendous commitment to his contention in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he was nearly awarded a seat in the Trump cabinet.

This is not to say a mistake should become the journalistic equivalent of a scarlet letter. Kudlow’s slavish adherence to his axioms is not unique. Ehrlich’s blindness to technological advances is not uncommon, even in an era dominated by technology. By failing to set a timeline or give detailed causal accounts, many believe they have predicted every crash since they learned how to say the word. This is likely because they begin each day with the same mantra: “the market will crash.”  Yet through an automatically executed routine of psychological somersaults, they do not see they were right only once and wrong dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times. This kind of person is much more deserving of scorn than a poker player who boasts about his victories, because he is (likely) also aware of how often he loses. At least he’s not fooling himself. The severity of Ehrlich’s misfires is a reminder of what happens when someone looks too far ahead while assuming all things will remain the same. Ceteris paribus exists only in laboratories and textbooks.

Axioms are fates accepted by different people as truth, but the belief in Fate (in the form of retroactive narrative construction) is a nearly ubiquitous stumbling block to clear thinking. We may be far removed from Sophocles, but the unconscious human drive to create sensible narratives is not peculiar to fifth-century B.C. Athens. A questionnaire given to students at Northwestern showed that most believed things had turned out for the best even if they had gotten into their first pick. From an outsider’s perspective this is probably not true. In our cocoons we like to think we are in the right place either through the hand of fate or through our own choices. Atheists are not immune to this Panglossian habit. Our brains are wired for stories, but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves seldom come out without distortions. We can gain a better outside view, which allows us to see situations from perspectives other than our own, but only through regular practice with feedback. This is one of the reasons groups are valuable.

Francis Galton asked 787 villagers to guess the weight of an ox hanging in the market square. The average of their guesses (1,197 lbs) turned out to be remarkably close to its actual weight (1,198 lbs). Scott Page has said “diversity trumps ability.” This is a tad bold, since legions of very different imbeciles will never produce anything of value, but there is undoubtedly a benefit to having a group with more than one point of view. This was tested by the GJP. Teams performed better than lone wolves by a significant margin (23% to be exact). Partially as a result of encouraging one another and building a culture of excellence, and partially from the power of collective intelligence.

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

-Helmuth von Moltke

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

-Mike Tyson

When Archie Cochrane was told he had cancer by his surgeon, he prepared for death. Type 1 thinking grabbed hold of him and did not doubt the diagnosis. A pathologist later told him the surgeon was wrong. The best of us, under pressure, fall back on habitual modes of thinking. This is another reason why groups are useful (assuming all their members do not also panic). Organizations like the GJP and the Millennium Project are showing how well collective intelligence systems can perform. Helmuth von Moltke and Mike Tyson aside, a better motto, substantiated by a growing body of evidence, comes from Dwight  Eisenhower: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels A Plank in Reason and Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Generating Transhumanist Enlightenment in Nigeria: Reflections from a Transhumanist Presentation at the 2017 Convention of the Atheist Society of Nigeria – Report by Ojochogwu Abdul

Generating Transhumanist Enlightenment in Nigeria: Reflections from a Transhumanist Presentation at the 2017 Convention of the Atheist Society of Nigeria – Report by Ojochogwu Abdul

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Ojochogwu Abdul


The Atheist Society of Nigeria (ASN), an organization with the groundbreaking record of being the first secular group to achieve official registration in Nigeria, recently recorded another first by hosting the ASN Convention on 11th November 2017, the first event of its kind in Nigeria. Among the guest speakers featured at the Convention were Bill Flavell, Vice President of the Atheist Alliance International (AAI), Roslyn Mould, Chair of the African Working Group, International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), and Leo Igwe, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria (HAN). Also featured as speaker was myself, Chogwu Abdul, Co-Founder of the Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria (H+FN) and United States Transhumanist Party (USTP) Foreign Ambassador for Nigeria, and I eventually presented a talk on the topic: “Merging the Human Brain with Computer: Implications for the Future of Humanity.” The talk focused primarily on the rising phenomenon of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs), but also broadly on the movement and philosophy of transhumanism as the general idea within which BCIs are contained.

As a transhumanist with a manifest interest in promoting the philosophy across Nigeria, and hopefully, throughout the African Continent, the presenter took the lecture as an opportunity to introduce the concept of transhumanism to a broad audience and initiate a discourse on the cultural, scientific, and philosophical movement within the public space of Nigeria. The reception given to the presentation at the Convention was seemingly warm, and some good interest was generated and expressed. But the work, realistically, is only just beginning, and practically speaking there is still so much to be done and perhaps millions of miles to go before transhumanism can go mainstream in Nigerian society – although it is the personal and sincere hope of this writer that the turn of events prove such a prediction wrong and the changes get to happen faster than expected.

At present, however, transhumanism is simply much of an unknown idea in Nigeria, with very few in the country having heard about the word or even knowing what it means. And even when some technologies or practices related to transhumanism, for example genetic engineering and biomedical engineering are proposed or seem to gradually find a way into Nigerian society, much resistance is witnessed, especially as presented by religious conservatives. Nigeria, if it must be said, is at it stands a very religious environment, and so far religious beliefs and attitudes indisputably hold much sway over the thought and lives of multitudes across the country, at least for the time being. Religious conservatism is at present therefore rife, and a lot that goes with scientific thinking still struggles from the margins, faced by challenges in trying to reach wider acceptance and influence.

However, there is, at least as perceived and discerned by some trend observers, something of a silent revolution gradually taking place across the country. Some have called this the slow dawning of a long-awaited mental awakening, one in which an increasing number of Nigerians, especially the current youth generation, are gradually becoming more embracing of critical thinking, science, rationalism, and secular reasoning. Much that goes with the manifestation of this trend is to be found on the Nigerian social media, where a secular community has been emerging and becoming increasingly vocal in challenging dominant conservative religious beliefs and practices, while at the same time promoting science, rationalism, and critical thinking. Secular humanism could be perceived as having found something of a confident foothold in Nigeria, and this gradual mental shift provides cause to hope that transhumanism could find a springboard and fertile ground from which to launch, grow, and spread across the country.

And then there is also that stubborn challenge of technological backwardness suffered by the country and much of Africa, which is yet another impediment that cannot be ignored in evaluating the transhumanist promotion task and prospects in this part of the world. The state of scientific and technological development in Nigeria is relatively (and realistically speaking) poor. Investments in research and development for science, technology, and even health have so far remained floated and struggling at very low points; technological infrastructure across the country is either absent, degrading, or fails to meet up with global standards, and much of the country’s finest minds in science, technology, and medicine are either already resident in foreign countries or are seriously working towards joining the exodus and brain drain flowing in the direction of the Nigerian Diaspora. For reasons as these, much that exists as a technological presence in the country mostly is available as a result of technology transfer, imported into Nigeria from foreign climes, and with quite a number of them arriving at the nation’s shores not as state-of-the-art, cutting edge innovations, but more as outdated technologies which represent a stage, away from which the exporting country has made or is already making noticeable progress.

Technological development therefore remains a key factor to be addressed in Nigeria for the transhumanist vision to gain foundations upon which to thrive, and this was highlighted in the presentation at the Convention. As a matter of encouragement though, there are, however, indications which give cause to expect some coming changes in the technological condition and fortunes of the country and Africa generally as a Continent. These indications derive from the growing number of tech-themed workshops, seminars, conferences, innovation hubs, and tech start-ups that are gradually but steadily exploding across Nigeria and a number of African countries. The Continent’s youths are becoming audaciously innovative and entrepreneurial, and more are doing so through developing homegrown technological solutions as responses to local problems. Such interventions are giving rise to a movement of indigenous innovation, and if this trend continues and gains sufficient support, then one could be cautiously optimistic enough to anticipate that it should only be a matter of time before versions of a host of emerging and converging technologies (nanotech, biotech, infotech, cognitive science and neurotech, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics, biomedical engineering, etc.), get developed within local African contexts and as best suited for the African condition.   Moreover, interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education and STEM-related enterprise is gaining a fresh boost, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation unveils very talented engineers and innovations from across sub-Saharan Africa yearly, and a very unique project by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) known as the Next Einstein Initiative (NEI), which has been on course for over a decade now and has among its objectives the actualization of a scientific revolution in Africa, further provides a great vista for reasonable hope. Several young, bright Nigerian (male and female) scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, among their counterparts from other African countries, are seriously involved in this AIMS-NEI programme, undertaking research, and pleasantly enough, are breaking new grounds in several STEM-related fields.

The combination thereof, of a fledgling secularism and rational thinking culture with an emerging consciousness and demonstration for scientific and technological development in contemporary Nigeria, can be leveraged upon by transhumanists as strategic factors making for a more possible environment, as that opportunity of a slight opening in the door which could and should be seized upon to kick the doors open even wider for transhumanist thinking, technologies and practices to pour in and ubiquitously find their way into the Nigerian space.

The presentation on BCIs made at the 2017 ASN Convention was meant to create an awareness among Nigerians with regards to the state of movements in transhumanist thought, and to stir the people into action in connecting the now helpfully available threads of rational thinking, creative imagination, science, technology, and enterprise into the fabric of a transhumanist culture which would yield much progress for Nigerian society and human life. The response to this nudging – though it is yet early in the day to clearly tell – has so far been encouraging.

There are some of us here in Africa who believe that the Continent is currently going through an African Renaissance and as well stands at the thresholds of a Scientific Revolution. Some of us are also plugged in to other parts of the globe enough at least to be aware that there is present talk of a Second Enlightenment and a coming Fourth Industrial Revolution, aspects of an emerging, global transhumanist civilization, and to which bringing Africa up to speed should be a major concern. There are indeed several stages in the march of human civilization (for example, the European Enlightenment Era and the First and Second Industrial Revolutions) which Africa neither “positively” nor “proactively” participated in, and for which Africa can no longer afford the luxury of time in going through them again at this point in history, for what the Continent currently pragmatically needs is nothing short of a giant leap through the aid mostly of technology, if it must, as it obviously has to, catch up with the rate of advancement of the rest of the world.

Connecting the trajectory of Africa’s unfolding Renaissance and burgeoning scientific revolution to the dimensions of the Second Enlightenment, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and generally the transhumanist civilization through technology, education, enterprise, and any other agency necessary, thus should become the logical cause and big picture inspiring the transhumanist project in Nigeria and Africa within the 21st Century. For this objective then, and in these parts of our planet, the adoption and indigenous innovation of emerging technologies associated with and promoted by the transhumanist movement are to attract deliberate emphasis as the core of this vision and narrative. This is pertinent, for should humankind eventually evolve into a new, posthuman species, then the peoples of the continent from which Homo Sapiens originated, Africa, need not, and must not be left behind in this great transformative event.

The group currently known as the Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria (H+FN), or by any other name with which it shall be formally recognized in the near future, has therefore set out on the task of spreading transhumanist enlightenment and engaging the Nigerian public with transhumanist discourse, and from this to hopefully progress into helping forge a strong and effective transhumanist network across the African Continent. The work, we can say, has sincerely begun.

Chogwu Abdul

Co-Founder, Transhumanist Forum of Nigeria

USTP Foreign Ambassador for Nigeria

November 2017

Second Enlightenment Salon – Gennady Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Scott Jurgens Discuss the Convergence of Technological Advances

Second Enlightenment Salon – Gennady Stolyarov II, Bill Andrews, Bobby Ridge, and Scott Jurgens Discuss the Convergence of Technological Advances

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Gennady Stolyarov II

Bill Andrews

Bobby Ridge

Scott Jurgens


U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II invited Dr. Bill Andrews (the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Biotechnology Advisor), Bobby Ridge (the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s Secretary-Treasurer), and Scott Jurgens to his Second Enlightenment Salon, where they shared their thoughts on emerging life-extension research, advances in prosthetics and orthotics, philosophy of science, brain-computer interfaces, and how technologies from a variety of fields are converging to bring about a paradigm shift in the human condition – hopefully within the coming decades.

The Achievements of the U.S. Transhumanist Party in 2017 – Transvision 2017 Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II

The Achievements of the U.S. Transhumanist Party in 2017 – Transvision 2017 Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, describes the highlights of the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s accomplishments in 2017 and outlines some aspirations for the future.

This presentation is intended to be streamed to the Transvision 2017 conference in Brussels, Belgium, on November 9, 2017. See the schedule for the conference here.

Download the accompanying slides, with live links to the referenced content, here.

This video presentation is being offered here to those who are unable to attend the conference but are interested in the Transhumanist Party’s recent progress and future direction.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Apply here.

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Peaceful Political Revolution for Longevity – RAAD Fest 2017 Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Peaceful Political Revolution for Longevity – RAAD Fest 2017 Presentation by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Gennady Stolyarov II


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, delivered this presentation as the initial speech in the panel discussion he moderated at RAAD Fest 2017, entitled “Advocating for the Future”. The audience consisted of approximately 700 in-person attendees.

Other speakers in the panel included Zoltan Istvan, Ben Goertzel, Max More, and Natasha Vita-More.

Gennady Stolyarov II Prepares to Present and Moderate Panel at RAAD Fest 2017

Gennady Stolyarov II Presents at RAAD Fest 2017

Gennady Stolyarov II Moderates Question-and-Answer Session for Panel: “Advocating for the Future” – RAAD Fest 2017

From left to right, Zoltan Istvan, Gennady Stolyarov II, Max More, Ben Goertzel, and Natasha Vita-More

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free, no matter where you reside. Fill out our Membership Application Form here.

Become a Foreign Ambassador for the U.S. Transhumanist Party. Fill out our Application Form here.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Official Statement on the Istvan/Weiss Articles Regarding Transhumanism and Libertarianism in “The American Conservative” Magazine and Related Matters

U.S. Transhumanist Party Official Statement on the Istvan/Weiss Articles Regarding Transhumanism and Libertarianism in “The American Conservative” Magazine and Related Matters

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Gennady Stolyarov II


Recently a large amount of controversy has been generated, and questions have been raised regarding the compatibility or lack thereof among transhumanism, libertarianism, and conservatism – as well as certain positions which have been commonly attributed to transhumanism as a philosophy and as a movement. The controversy was generated by an exchange between Zoltan Istvan, founder and former Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party (but now our Political and Media Advisor with no official decision-making role), and Kai Weiss in the pages of The American Conservative Magazine. Mr. Istvan’s article, “The Growing World of Libertarian Transhumanism” (August 8, 2017), made the case for an essential compatibility between libertarian and transhumanist ideas. Mr. Weiss countered with a disparaging article, “Transhumanism Is Not Libertarian, It’s an Abomination” – a piece which largely critiques a contrived caricature of transhumanism and does not genuinely engage views which most, many, or – in some cases – any self-identified transhumanists actually hold. In response to some of Mr. Weiss’s assertions, Mr. Istvan released a post on his Facebook profile which reinforced and endeavored to explain some of Mr. Istvan’s personal views regarding parenting (which he correctly and prominently clarified as “not an official platform policy in any way” and “just a philosophical stance”).

Unfortunately, the exchange between Mr. Istvan and Mr. Weiss has generated a maelstrom of public reaction, which largely consists of a feedback loop of misunderstandings. The purpose of this official statement, in my capacity as Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, is to dispel any such misunderstandings and to elucidate the positions of the Transhumanist Party on the nexus of issues involved. These positions arise out of the official Platform adopted thus far by the U.S. Transhumanist Party’s members in the course of multiple rounds of voting, and should be distinguished from the personal views of any individual, including Mr. Istvan and myself.

First, it is important to convey that the United States Transhumanist Party greatly esteems Mr. Istvan and owes him a debt of gratitude for founding the Party and continuing to offer valuable advice. However, it is also important to emphasize that the Transhumanist Party is not the Libertarian Party – in any way, shape, or form. Mr. Istvan’s candidacy for Governor of California as a Libertarian for the 2018 election has no relation or affiliation with the United States Transhumanist Party in any manner; it is, rather, his personal endeavor – although, on a personal level, I wish Mr. Istvan all the best. No statements made by Mr. Istvan as part of that Libertarian Party candidacy can be imputed to the Transhumanist Party or the ideas broadly constituting the transhumanist movement. Mr. Istvan himself clearly recognizes this and has acted appropriately to make the requisite distinctions. It surprises the leadership of the United States Transhumanist Party, however, that there persists a common public conflation between Mr. Istvan’s Libertarian campaign and the policies and positions of the Transhumanist Party under our present administration. We will endeavor to dispel this conflation with all the means at our disposal.

While many Transhumanists identify as (small “l”) libertarians philosophically and politically, other Transhumanists would not so identify. The Transhumanist Party is unique in contemporary politics precisely because of its transpartisan nature. We desire to transcend conventional political distinctions and so welcome libertarians, socialists, republicans, democrats, centrists, apolitical individuals, and anybody else – however they identify themselves – who would be willing to ally with us to craft a better future. In developing our Platform, we solicited the input of all our members and continue to do so. The result is a set of positions different from any established political party or conventional political outlook – positions that will continue to be refined and expanded as our membership grows and new perspectives, voices, and rational analyses are added. The Transhumanist Party seeks to build bridges with creatively minded, forward-thinking individuals of a variety of persuasions. We resolutely refuse, however, to be a “feeder” organization into any established political party, the Libertarian Party included. The Transhumanist Party is not intended to funnel people to serve as reinforcements for one or another of the myriad well-known players in the contemporary political arena. Rather, all of our members shall remain free to be and express their true intellectual selves, acknowledge their differences, and explore opportunities for collaboration nonetheless. We therefore are free to comment on the work of Mr. Istvan or any other thinker objectively and in a manner that acknowledges strengths and weaknesses alike.

Mr. Istvan’s article was commendable in its attempt to build bridges between transhumanists and libertarians. Mostly his article is an overview of transhumanism as a movement, its history, its recent surge in popularity, Mr. Istvan’s personal background, and some questions that Mr. Istvan poses regarding the future “civil rights battle of the century” that “may be looming because of coming transhumanist tech.” Some of the issues Mr. Istvan raises find strong support in the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform. For instance, Mr. Istvan asks, “Should we allow scientists to reverse aging, something researchers have already had success with in mice?” The U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform, contained in Article III of our Constitution, answers this with a resounding “Yes!”  Sections V, VI, and VIII of our platform specifically express support for life extension and the reversal of aging necessary to achieve it. The Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 2.0, expresses support for life extension in six of its Articles: III, IV, V, VI, VIII, and IX. However, there are other questions that Mr. Istvan poses, which, while interesting to consider, do not arise from any specific position in our Platform – e.g., abortion, sexbots, whether a “Jesus Singularity” is possible, or whether the human species should be renamed after sufficient cyborgization. It would be difficult, and likely impossible, for any subset of transhumanists to reach a consensus or even acceptable middle ground on these issues, although we understand that they will continue to be discussed. It is best, however, not to frame such matters as official Party positions – but rather to simply continue the conversation, as Mr. Istvan did by raising questions which may have many possible answers. But it is worth emphasizing that neither Transhumanists in particular nor (small “t”) transhumanists in general have any definitive, authoritative positions on these matters.

While Mr. Istvan’s work presents the need for discernment in distinguishing between his views and the positions of the Transhumanist Party, Mr. Weiss’s rejoinder is flawed on an entirely different scale. It is outright misleading and actually seeks to commit (small “l”) libertarians to positions that would not be compatible with liberty if thoroughly examined. Mr. Weiss states that “Transhumanism should be rejected by libertarians as an abomination of human evolution” – as if evolution were itself a moral value for humans or for the achievement of the ideals of liberty (rather than merely the process by which humans happened to arise or even, in its “natural” form, an obstacle to the flourishing and liberty of the individual – since individuals are dispensable from the standpoint of natural selection). Mr. Weiss further imports citations from some of Mr. Istvan’s prior articles (not his original editorial in The American Conservative) to allege that Mr. Istvan, and by implication all transhumanists, support eugenics, as a result of Mr. Istvan’s statement that he “cautiously endorse[s] the idea of licensing parents, a process that would be little different than getting a driver’s license.” To reach the conclusion that transhumanists support eugenics, Mr. Weiss needed to have made several non sequiturs which reach far beyond anything Mr. Istvan actually wrote.

Yet Mr. Istvan’s subsequent Facebook post appears to be a reinforcement of this position, wherein Mr. Istvan seeks to justify it by the statement that “I do not want homeless people, severely mentally disabled people (like down syndrome), or crack addicts having kids if I will end up paying higher taxes so the government must take care of them.” However, Mr. Istvan also offers a mitigating point to this view by noting that he also “deeply support[s] a libertarian version of a basic income to help the poor and hardship-burdened out, but [he does] not and will not support a lack of responsibility on a parent’s part.”

The United States Transhumanist Party takes a decidedly different view on parenting, children, and reproductive freedom than either Mr. Istvan’s proposal to license parents, or Mr. Weiss’s highly disproportionate and unfounded allegation of eugenicist tendencies. All things considered, most (small “l”) libertarians will find the Transhumanist Party’s actual positions on children and childbearing to be far more palatable than either of the positions of Mr. Istvan and Mr. Weiss.

Article XII of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, Version 2.0, states, in part, that “All sentient entities are entitled to reproductive freedom, including through novel means such as the creation of mind clones, monoparent children, or benevolent artificial general intelligence.” If anything, the Transhumanist Party embraces novel techniques that would render it easier for many persons to have children – for instance, without the need to find a partner of the opposite gender.

Section VI of the United States Transhumanist Party Platform – an extensive section on morphological freedom – specifically states that “The United States Transhumanist Party is focused on the rights of all sapient individuals to do as they see fit with themselves and their own reproductive choices.” The last paragraph of Section VI clarifies that “The United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the ethical obligations of sapient beings to be the purview of those individual beings, and holds that no other group, individual, or government has the right to limit those choices – including […] reproductive choice, reproductive manipulation, […] or other possible modifications, enhancements, or morphological freedoms. It is only when such choices directly infringe upon the rights of other sapient beings that the United States Transhumanist Party will work to develop policies to avoid potential infringements.”

Accordingly, the Transhumanist Party sees reproduction as a fundamentally individual choice. Whether a given individual chooses not to reproduce at all, or to reproduce prolifically, or to pursue any intermediate course, is not a matter to be coercively regimented, restricted, or subjected to special permits. While it could readily be acknowledged that some circumstances are more conducive to the effective and beneficent upbringing of children than others, it nonetheless remains the province of individual judgment to determine whether a given set of circumstances is sufficient in this regard. The influence of civil society, not coercive political solutions, may be a more suitable means to encourage individuals to make decisions in full consideration of the potential consequences.

Some commentators have lamented (as in the premise of the 2006 Mike Judge film Idiocracy) that individuals who would have made decent parents often abstain from reproduction out of an abundance of caution and concern – precisely the traits that would make them better parents – while those who do not consider the consequences of bringing a child into this world may therefore reproduce unthinkingly. It appears that the intention of Mr. Istvan is to address the latter concern and set forth some manner of prior restraint to such unthinking reproduction – and yet such prior restraints are never without unintended consequences. Any externally imposed system of prior restraint creates an inflexible bureaucratic machinery that must be navigated, and good people will inevitably fall through its cracks or be caught within its technicalities, such that self-evidently reasonable decisions will be thwarted needlessly. The important insight to prevent a parental licensing scheme, such as the one proposed by Mr. Istvan, is the recognition that no single, overarching set of rules, imposed on an entire population, can possibly filter out solely the “unsuitable” parents while allowing all of the “suitable” parents to do what they would have done anyway. Errors in both directions are inevitable; the former type of error would show the system to be ineffectual, while the latter type of error would be a travesty of justice.

Furthermore, the United States Transhumanist Party strongly supports children’s rights. In addition to Section LXII of our Platform, which “supports efforts to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to uphold the Rights of the Child as prescribed therein”, Section XXIII states that “The United States Transhumanist Party supports the rights of children to exercise liberty in proportion to their rational faculties and capacity for autonomous judgment. In particular, the United States Transhumanist Party strongly opposes all forms of bullying, child abuse, and censorship of intellectual self-development by children and teenagers.” Implied in this position is a thoroughgoing respect for children as individuals – not merely the products of their parents and the circumstances in which they find themselves. Children have rational faculties, they can exercise autonomous judgment, they can learn, they can improve themselves and rise above any sub-optimal conditions into which they were born.  To state that certain persons of limited means, low virtue, or myriad possible failures of character should not be permitted to have children, neglects the fact that children are distinct from their parents and are not fated to repeat their parents’ mistakes or to suffer under the yoke of their parents’ limitations. A genius can arise from the slums; a decent person can emerge from a troubled background. The will and determination of the individual child, and the subsequent adult, should not be disregarded or underestimated here! While, undeniably, hard circumstances pose barriers to the actualization of human potential, it is unconscionable for political restraints to forestall the very possibility that such barriers might be overcome, by declaring them to be insurmountable in advance and cutting off the potential for a life to emerge that might disprove that contention.

Far from a eugenicist perspective, the view of many transhumanists and of the Transhumanist Party is a fundamentally individualist position that rejects both genetic and environmental variants of determinism and emphasizes the autonomy of each individual person.

Mr. Weiss finds other aspersions to cast upon the transhumanists, for instance by alleging that they wish to create the equivalent of Leon Trotsky’s “New Soviet Man” – as if the goal itself of most humans rising to the heights of Aristotle, Goethe, or Mozart were reprehensible! If Mr. Weiss, as a self-identified libertarian, were consistent in this criticism, he would go so far as to condemn libertarianism’s own ambitions to reduce the size and scope of government, because, after all, Karl Marx’s end goal – for “the State to wither away” – is the same as that of many anarcho-capitalist libertarians today! Mr. Weiss makes the common fallacy of assuming that a particular goal is not worthwhile, simply because some people, who also committed reprehensible actions or held other fallacious views, happened to espouse that goal.

Mr. Weiss concludes his essay by stating that “Instead of seeing nature, the world and life overall as a means to get to know God, humans in the last centuries have become accustomed to seeing the world as something that is only there for humans to take and use for their own pleasures. Transhumanism would be the final step of this process: the conquest of death. You don’t have to be religious to find this abhorrent. As we have seen, it would be the end to all religion, to human cooperation overall, in all likelihood to liberty itself, and even the good-bye to humanity. It would be the starting point of the ultimate dystopia.”

We see in Mr. Weiss’s conclusion the underlying motive behind his critique of transhumanism, which is that he finds transhumanism to be somehow in conflict with his personal view of “nature, the world and life overall as a means to get to know God” – a goal which, in Mr. Weiss’s mind, is contrary to humans either pursuing “their own pleasures” or conquering death. This is far from a general libertarian position and seems, rather, to be inextricably entangled with Mr. Weiss’s own religious views. As such, his article would have been more forthrightly presented as a critique of transhumanism from the standpoint of a particular religious denomination or theological interpretation (however Mr. Weiss might classify his views in these regards), but not a libertarian critique of transhumanism – especially since most libertarians would strongly disagree with the notion of imposing a particular religious interpretation as a justification for thwarting progress or individual choice.

Contrary to Mr. Weiss’s assertions, transhumanism per se is not incompatible with religious belief, and there exist various strains of religious transhumanism today, as acknowledged in Section XXV of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform: “The United States Transhumanist Party welcomes both religious and non-religious individuals who support life extension and emerging technologies. The United States Transhumanist Party recognizes that some religious individuals and interpretations may be receptive to technological progress and, if so, are valuable allies to the transhumanist movement. On the other hand, the United States Transhumanist Party is also opposed to any interpretation of a religious doctrine that results in the rejection of reason, censorship, violation of individual rights, suppression of technological advancement, and attempts to impose religious belief by force and/or by legal compulsion.”

More importantly, whether or not one is religious, nothing about the conquest of death – the genuine aim of many transhumanists which Mr. Weiss seems most inclined to disparage – is abominable or contrary to liberty or contrary to the ability of any person to express any peaceful, non-coercive religious belief or practice. It is confounding to see Mr. Weiss assert that life extension would be the end of liberty (when only free human beings could pursue it, and their rights to pursue it would need to be recognized in order for it to be achieved), the end of cooperation (when life extension could only be achieved through major cooperation by leading scientists specialized in various areas of biology, medicine, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and related fields), or of humanity itself (when individual humans would be the ones living longer – often with the option to remain in a youthful but predominantly biological state).  Certainly, Mr. Weiss has offered no evidence to suggest that an “ultimate dystopia” would be generated by enabling people to live longer, more prosperous, more fulfilled lives – his straw-man characterizations notwithstanding.

Those who seek to understand transhumanist thought and Transhumanist political positions would do well to study the growing corpus of transhumanist literature, which, as Mr. Istvan validly points out, extends back to (at least) the 1980s, as well as to follow the work of the United States Transhumanist Party. While the Transhumanist Party is not exclusively libertarian in character, we also encourage individuals who hold libertarian views to see key complementarities with transhumanism – which may well describe the world which would emerge if individuals had the power to fully exercise their liberty to innovate and discover. Whether you identify as libertarian or as anything else, we welcome your input and participation in the Transhumanist Party if you have insights to contribute regarding how the human condition might be improved, and how our age-old limits and sufferings might be overcome.

Finally, the Transhumanist Party – while it shall endeavor to remain ecumenical and not explicitly align itself with either libertarianism, conservatism, or any ideologies that could be deemed the antitheses thereof – recognizes, contra Mr. Weiss, that individuals, such as readers of The American Conservative magazine, who identify either as libertarians, or as conservatives, or both, will be able to find many areas of affinity with transhumanism, properly understood. Although these are not official documents of the Transhumanist Party and are not necessarily representative of its positions, I encourage readers who are interested in discovering these affinities to read my older essays “Transhumanism as a Grand Conservatism” and “Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach” – which I mention here primarily to motivate thinking and discussion.

 

Gennady Stolyarov II, FSA, ACAS, MAAA, CPCU, ARe, ARC, API, AIS, AIE, AIAF

Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party

August 20, 2017

City of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova, Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II

City of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova, Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II

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Art by Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Painting Commissioned by Gennady Stolyarov II


City of New AntideathCity of New Antideath – Painting by Ekaterinya Vladinakova

Commentary by Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party, Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator

For my coming thirtieth birthday, I have commissioned a colossal cityscape depicting my vision and hope for the future progress of humankind. Artist Ekaterinya Vladinakova, a long-time supporter of transhumanism and life extension, was the evident best choice for this project.

The City of New Antideath represents a future society which has overcome death, disease, and today’s principal sources of material scarcity and discomfort. This city contains more than ample living space in ornate, radiantly illuminated skyscrapers. Smaller villas, domed towers, and other luxuriously ornamented buildings adorn the central walkways. There is ample room for pedestrian traffic and plant growth sculpted into geometrically complex patterns – including on the rooftop terraces of many of the mega-skyscrapers.

Flying cars and autonomous drones appear as streaks of light from the ground level. There is so much room for aerial transportation that no more traffic jams exist on the ground. One can opt for efficient transport, or for open-ended leisurely walking, and the two modes will not collide.

Over the years I have created a large number of building models using Sketchup, Minecraft, and even LEGO bricks. In my quest for permanence, they – or images of them – have been preserved and provided to the artist for inspiration. The first City of Antideath consisted of my Sketchup models. The City of New Antideath was not intended to be an exact replica, but rather a successor inspired by the prospect of juxtaposing the best architectural elements of all eras – past and yet to come.

I conveyed to Ekaterinya Vladinakova that the skyscrapers should exhibit a variety of bold colors and geometric shapes – but also be orderly and ornate. I have a great admiration for historical architecture from the 16th through 19th centuries – so while some of the buildings are geometric and futuristic, others borrow significant elements from Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, or Victorian styles. Russian and Eastern architectural traditions find their manifestations in this cityscape as well. The idea is to portray a future of extreme diversity, where all of these elements will exist side by side and interact with one another in interesting ways. Far from cultural separatism or tribalism, the future needs to borrow and develop upon the best elements from all cultures, times, and places. The culture of New Antideath is rational, scientific, progress-oriented, universalist, cosmopolitan, and at the same time hyperpluralist and welcoming of all peaceful individuals.

The most significant vision I have for this artwork is that it will become the iconic vision of a techno-positive future. Accordingly, I am rendering it available for free download and distribution via a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License so that it might be used by others who seek illustrations of a future we can all aspire for.

I still hope that I was not born too soon – that I may someday personally witness and experience a future of this sort. But for now, although the third decade of my life did not see such a future emerge, I am happy at least to have enabled its depiction so that others can be inspired to strive toward it. Given that our immediate world has become suffused by a pervasive, destructive malaise over the past two years, we will need visions such as this to overcome it and achieve better ways to be.

There are three versions of this digital painting available for free download (left-click on the links to open, right-click to download):

Small (1200 by 1931 pixels)

Medium (2400 by 3861 pixels)

Original Size (11250 by 18100 pixels – a vast canvas with immense detail. Note: This file size is immense as well – but you will be able to zoom in to view individual buildings and regard them as smaller-scale paintings in their own right.)

For those seeking musical accompaniment in viewing this painting, I recommend my Transhumanist March, Op. 78 (2014) (MP3 and YouTube)  or Man’s Struggle Against Death, Op. 58 (2008) (MP3 and YouTube).

Find out more about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Ekaterinya Vladinakova is an accomplished digital painter. See her gallery here and her DeviantArt page here.  

LEAF Interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey: Controlling the Main Aging Damages

LEAF Interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey: Controlling the Main Aging Damages

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Aubrey de Grey and Life Extension Advocacy Foundation


The U.S. Transhumanist Party is pleased to feature this interview of Dr. Aubrey de Grey, the Transhumanist Party’s Anti-Aging Advisor, conducted by Elena Milova of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), one of the Transhumanist Party’s most active Allied Organizations. You can also see this interview on YouTube here.

Description by LEAF: Please enjoy this interview with Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of SENS Research Foundation — one of the most successful advocacy and fundraising initiatives supporting breakthrough research on the main mechanisms of aging and age-related diseases.

In this video Dr. de Grey speaks about the progress in developing interventions to tackle age-related damages identified by SENS as the main ones.

Interviewer – LEAF/Lifespan.io Board member Elena Milova.

Dr. de Grey received his BA in Computer Science and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Cambridge in 1985 and 2000, respectively. He is Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research , is a Fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the American Aging Association, and sits on the editorial and scientific advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations.

Subscribe to Lifespan.io’s YouTube channel for more.

This interview is presented by LEAF. Please support its work by becoming a “Lifespan Hero“.

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia

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Gennady Stolyarov II 


To celebrate Founders’ Day – the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Molossia – representatives of the U.S. and Nevada Transhumanist Parties made an international trip on May 27, 2017, to join President Kevin Baugh in his micronation.

Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, interviewed President Baugh on what attributes are needed to form a successful, long-lasting micronation, how micronationalism can inform our understanding of politics, countries, and governments, and how technology is essential to the development of micronations. Both micronationalism and technology have the potential to bring people closer together in terms of finding others who share similar interests and goals.

This speech by President Baugh provides background into the founding of Molossia and the concept behind it, as well as the ambitions for its future as a leading micronation of the world.

Find out about the Republic of Molossia here and read its Wikipedia entry here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free here.

Section XXII of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform reads: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports efforts at political, economic, and cultural experimentation in the form of seasteads and micronations. Specifically, the United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the existence and sovereignty of the Principality of Sealand, the Republic of Molossia, and the Free Republic of Liberland, and supports the recognition of these entities by all governments and political parties of the world.”

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Travis McHenry, Grand Duke of Westarctica

U.S. Transhumanist Party Interview with Travis McHenry, Grand Duke of Westarctica

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Gennady Stolyarov II 


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, interviews Grand Duke Travis McHenry of Westarctica on the attributes needed to form a long-lasting micronation, the role of technology in enabling more micronations to form over time, and what micronationalism can teach us about politics and organizational leadership.

Find out about Westartica here and read its Wikipedia entry here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free here.

Section XXII of the U.S. Transhumanist Party Platform reads: “The United States Transhumanist Party supports efforts at political, economic, and cultural experimentation in the form of seasteads and micronations. Specifically, the United States Transhumanist Party recognizes the existence and sovereignty of the Principality of Sealand, the Republic of Molossia, and the Free Republic of Liberland, and supports the recognition of these entities by all governments and political parties of the world.”

In the spirit of this plank, the U.S. Transhumanist Party also recognizes the nation of Westarctica and the efforts of Grand Duke Travis to eventually render its territory suitable for human habitation.