Andrew Vladimirov, Information security specialist, biohacker and one of the original members of the Transhumanist Party UK, spoke in-depth with Sputnik about the rise of transhumanism and its implications.
SPUTNIK: Can you tell us a bit about your role in the UK Transhumanist Party? What is your background and why did you embrace transhumanism?
Andrew Vladimirov: I was one of the first party members and participated in the London Futurists movement long beforehand. After convening everyone, we defined key party policies and goals via vote.
Although I have not been heavily involved in political activities since then, I did numerous presentations on cognitive augmentation at various events, including the BT Unconference, Lisbon Maker Fair, Edinburgh Science Fair and others, in addition to London Futurists and party gatherings.
I also wrote three chapters for Fast Future books, helped review Transcending Politics, founded and ran the Brain Hackers group with two friends at London Hackspace, and was interviewed by BBC Channel 4 and many others.
I primarily "spread the word" while attempting the actual research and technical development within my prime area of interest, which is human enhancement.
Regarding my background, I have participated in nootropics development as far back as 1991 whilst as a medical student, and have always had a practical interest in human enhancement, which complements other transhumanist paradigms.
I switched to information security (InfoSec) after getting my doctorate after being unable to find suitable postdoc positions to fit my research interests, but have continued my pursuits privately by constructing a home lab and consulting biotech companies in my free time.
So, I have worked between InfoSec and bio-neurotech, which is rather demanding yet covers two of the most cutting-edge fields to date.
Ideologically, I have always subscribed to the "non progredi est regredi" maxim, and believe that the "progress will happen on its own with available research and development resources determining its pace" approach a major fallacy. History is full of examples of once highly developed civilisations falling in disarray, such as disintegration of the USSR.
Hence, we must remain proactive stance in moving forward as we are walking on thin ice, because if we do nothing, we could possibly return to a new dark age, no less.
SPUTNIK: What are some of the Transhumanist Party's (TP-UK) most important policies?
Andrew Vladimirov: Whilst TP-UK policies are specific to Britain, the centremost element is that political decisions must be based on solid evidence and thorough data analysis rather than emotion or ulterior motives.
Hence, one of our most important constitutional clauses, 3.1, reforms government toward greater democratic, decentralised and technologically-mediated participation in decision making, with a greater focus on evidence-based policies rather than ideology.
We have evolved emotional decision making in order to quickly respond to threats in Flight, Fight, Fright (FFF) situations, but it has no place in any strategic planning at the level of policy. We must take into account other long-term (beyond a single electoral cycle) developments and effects.
Without exaggerating, short-termism is a (post)modern problem in the West which may destroy it. Contemporary geopolitics has shown a worrying trend of blindly accepting populist decisions, as well as making powerful enemies or treasonous "friends" for immediate gains regardless of long-term consequences, especially related to political decisions based on profit-making.
For example, the Party stands for abolishing higher education fees and providing full grants to all citizen students. If education becomes a money-making scheme rather than a long-term investment beneficial to society, fundamental R&D, alongside culturally critical humanities and liberal arts, will simply collapse, eventually leading to "idiocracy". Brain drain from lesser-developed parts of the world may sustain it for a while, but brain drain goes both ways and is unsustainable and unreliable.
More radically, TP-UK is largely pro-Universal Basic Income (UBI). Evidence from pilot studies around the world suggests there are tangible benefits to UBI, compared with current welfare systems.
UBI may be economically unfeasible today, but what would staunch opponents propose in the near future, where millions are displaced by automation?
Re-education cannot be done at the flick of a switch, especially with unemployment and costly education, but something that looks counterintuitive today can make perfect sense tomorrow.
SPUTNIK: What does the Transhumanist Party seek to achieve in the short and long-term?
Andrew Vladimirov: We hope to achieve national awareness of existing challenges and opportunities to ensure a positive future for society, with our members engaging others through local activism. We are still a fairly young party and still seek support from like-minded citizens.
Long term, after reaching critical mass, we hope voters will come to us as a party providing opportunity for safe pathways to sustainable superabundance, longevity, and navigating the labyrinth of emerging technologies, social opportunities and risks.
The first attempts have already been made, though. Transhumanists such as Natasha Vita-More and Gabriel Rothblatt ran in elections on a futurist platform, and one to two politicians such as Giuseppe Vatinno espoused Transhumanist views, in addition to US presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan, the first to develop and promote the Transhumanist Party idea.
Despite failing to win, he has certainly put Transhumanism in the media spotlight. Dr. Alexander Karran was also the first candidate in Britain with an explicitly Transhumanist platform back in 2015.
SPUTNIK: New transhumanism trends are even entering mainstream news. What are some of the biggest technological developments you are following and have you or your party advocated them?
Andrew Vladimirov: Each transhumanist specialises in different interests. For instance, some are keen on environmental issues, climate change and green tech, as well as energy abundance and alternative energy sources.
While the overall impression is that this is a "party of geeks", this is not really so. There are quite a few followers with arts and humanities backgrounds, and some even join for purely aesthetic reasons such as cyberpunk fans.
Specifically, the party also stands for all technological advances, provided they are not clearly destructive or toxic, whilst taking into account risks within an acceptable risk-benefit ratio.
I advocate human-machine integration such as brain-computer interfaces and cybernetics, cognitive enhancement through neurostimulation, neurofeedback, pharmacologically, via manipulating the microbiome, problems and theories related to consciousness, genomics and human genetic editing, life extension, and so on.
Of course, I closely monitor new developments in InfoSec, from cryptography and biometrics to decentralised blockchain security and issues related to privacy and global surveillance.
Politicians such as UK shadow chancellor John McDonnell actively advocated UBI, and regardless of what people think of him and Corbyn's Labour, this is as politically mainstream as it gets. Russian president Vladimir Putin also said last year that "whoever leads in AI will rule the world". So, within the transhumanist milieu, people have contemplated and analysed the science since its inception.
SPUTNIK: What are the biggest ethical questions surrounding transhumanism? Why are ethics such an important tenant?
Andrew Vladimirov: The drumbeat of technological progress is relentless, reaching the point where technology gives us the tools of creating and redefining life and posing great existential questions.
For example, should we treat an AI programme as an intelligent being entitled to the same rights as us, provided it passes the Turing test? These questions were contemplated long before any official transhumanist movements, starting with Wells, Asimov, Zamyatin, Huxley, Čapek, and others.
However, what was science fiction a few decades ago is now everyday reality, or will become so within our lifespan. Self-driving cars are already strolling by, and you can buy DIY Crispr-Cas9 kits for editing your own genome online (instructions included). It is therefore crucial that we consolidate our ethical values and common goals as humans before mistakes are made.
SPUTNIK: Some scholars agree that man's relationship to technology drives human progress. Why is it important to make transhumanism a political rather than social or academic movement? How can people get involved?
Andrew Vladimirov: It is no longer a purely academic topic as it is not confined to academia anymore. Social and political issues are immensely intertwined and it is difficult to receive research grants for human enhancement studies in the UK without scientists resorting to inventing borderline conditions.
Two years ago, we fought to amend the ill-conceived Psychoactive Substances Act to exclude nootropics, which have absolutely nothing in common with "legal highs" the Act was designed to ban, yet they are also abolished. I remember watching topical parliamentary debates with MPs having no clue about these drugs or pharmacology in general.
Another critical area is policies and regulations on privacy, surveillance, use of cryptography, and Internet censorship, in addition to UBI and education fees — all pure politics and political economics.
Regarding getting politically involved, people can participate by joining our party, attending or creating local or online groups, or even putting yourself forward as a candidate. You can buy party or affiliated publications, including "Transcending Politics" and Fast Future books, or simply donate.
However, all this is hardly as important as changing minds. One must take any political statement with a grain of salt and seek proof, no matter how emotionally or ideologically appealing it is.
Large numbers, high social ranking supporters, using familiar clichés or "going with the tradition" prove nothing: these are typical manifestations of common cognitive biases. Seek objective evidence and facts from several independent sources while keeping the "cui bono" in mind.
Second, think long and wide. What happens five to ten years in the future may dramatically affect your life and lives of those you care about. Similarly, in the increasingly interconnected world, locking oneself into tribal or geographic boundaries is burying one's head in the sand while ignoring threats and missing opportunities.
Finally, stay optimistic and free yourself from any vestiges of the luddite mindset. While there are certainly risks to contemplate and avoid, science and tech are far more likely to enrich, rather than ruin your life.