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The Robot Revolution Is Coming. Why Aren’t We Parenting For It?

Transhumanist Zoltan Istvan understands the future is coming faster than many realize. And he's readying his kids for it.

Zoltan Istvan lives in the future. The California author, journalist, and politician is one of the world’s most visible transhumanists and has circled the globe spreading the transhumanist belief that technological progress will trigger human evolution. Istvan and other transhumanists believe that advances in artificial intelligence and biotechnology will reach the singularity, defined by Google’s in-house futurist Ray Kurzweil as a future period when “the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

Transhumanists believe that future tech will allow humans to seamlessly meld with technology, evolving our species past aging and disease and essentially becoming immortal. Defeating death was central to Istvan’s 2016 presidential and 2018 California gubernatorial political campaigns, where he barnstormed highways in a campaign bus modified to look like a giant coffin on wheels.   

In short, Istvan thinks a lot about the future. As a father of two girls, his belief that a seismic technological transformation is looming for humanity isn’t abstract for him. In his daughters’ comfort with emerging technology, he sees a preview of the seamless interaction between man and machine to come. His vision of the near future, where higher education and employment are either obsolete or radically transformed, informs his approach to parenting and planning for his family’s future. 

During a break from a European speaking tour, Istvan spoke with Fatherly about raising kids that will come of age in a world radically different from the one we know now.

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How does transhumanism influence your parenting?

Let me tell you the classic dilemma I have right now with my two kids. I have a four-year-old and an eight-year-old, and my wife is an OB-GYN. She has these ambitions that our daughters go to medical school.

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But there’s a high probability that when my youngest daughter gets to graduate school, you would upload information into your brain, similar to The Matrix. No one would go to a class. You can transplant the memory of playing Mozart’s 5th Symphony into one’s mind through brainwave technology, and know how to play it perfectly. The same thing with surgery.

But even though you’re a perfectly trained doctor because you uploaded all this information, you’ll never be as accurate as the robot, which probably can perform all these surgeries five times more quickly, 24 hours a day, and not have any liabilities or anything like that.

So what kind of education do you think we should prepare our kids for?

I really don’t think there will be brick-and-mortar schools. And maybe this is not in the 15-or-20-year future. It’s certainly within the 25-to-35-year-future.

Right now, we think our kids will go to college, and get a degree. But a) there probably won’t be any jobs, and b) even if there are, it’s not gonna be like you have to train for them. This is a very interesting dilemma. I don’t have all the answers but I can guarantee it’s coming and it’s coming a lot faster than people realize.

Though really, if it doesn’t come and you didn’t save for college, you’re gonna be sort of out. So you better prepare. When it’s time to buy the Harvard or the Columbia chip implant education, it’s gonna be like all things in a capitalistic environment. Whoever has the most money is gonna have access to the best technology. It’s just like a car or anything else.

Right now, we think our kids will go to college, and get a degree. But a) there probably won’t be any jobs, and b) even if there are, it’s not gonna be like you have to train for them

That’s a bit of a frightening thought. 

If you don’t make good money in the next 10 years, you will never, ever make it, and that’s just a fact. Capitalism as we know it will probably cease over the next 10 to 15 years because automation is gonna be so widespread.

Save as much money as possible and make as money as possible in the next 10 years. There’s no guarantee you’re gonna have a job beyond that and you won’t be able to train for another job. By the time you’re trained, that job will be replaced already by robots.

Unless Congress actually stops technology, there’s a good probability that tens of millions of jobs will be lost even maybe before 2020. I mean, we’re on the verge of all the four million truck drivers losing their jobs. This is why I supported a universal basic income as a candidate. There’s just no way to offset this. You either stop technology and go back to riding bicycles everywhere or move forward and have to create a new kind of economic system.

Some very rich people will own the robots but the vast majority of the human race won’t work. The trade-off is that they might have very nice lives. Hopefully, they’ll have enough money for food and shelter. Maybe we’ll just live lives of leisure, where they can go do education, they can learn to play the guitar in the Bahamas.

Is there a forthcoming technology that you think might profoundly change parenting?

The technology that’s about to come down the pipeline, and I’m about to invest in, is the implant. Not brain implant technology, but either tattooing or implant technology that allows tracking. There’s a huge industry right now for implanted tracking devices for mentally disabled children and adults. If you have someone who is severely disabled, you have to be very careful they don’t wander off the property and get hurt. A lot of this technology is already developed.

Another one is the flying smartphone. Or you can call it a drone if you’d like. Throw it in the air, and it follows your child to school. We already have some of these technologies. If you leave a baby in a crib, you can leave it with the video camera on. But we’re talking much more personalized devices that follow your children and watch them all the time.

We’re coming to an era when kids can choose to have these chips inside them, and it’s gonna wreak havoc on their moral systems, their ethical systems, their education, and eventually their romantic lives. But it’ll probably be very good in terms of guiding them too.

How do you think these changes will influence the moral lessons we teach kids?

A lot of these implants can probably control morality to some extent. You’d have something inside you that, like Abraham Lincoln, has spoken of the better angels of our nature, would instruct you on ethics of what to do in your mind or influence you. We could even think of implant technology in terms of capital punishment. Instead of killing somebody, we would just change their brain and make them a nice human being.

We’re coming to an era when kids can choose to have this stuff inside them, and it’s gonna wreak havoc on their moral systems, their ethical systems, their education and eventually their romantic lives. But it’ll probably be very good in terms of guiding them too.

You have a microchip implant. Do your daughters?

My oldest daughter keeps asking for one because they are quite fun. My wife and I have talked about not doing it just yet. We want to. Then you don’t need keys to open your doors and stuff like that. But it seems to be something that would invite hostility from the government or parenting services or whatnot.

As a public figure and as someone running for office, something like that would bring a lot of negative media attention if it didn’t go well. This is brand new technology, and we’re sort of in the wild west discovering what’s allowed, what’s not allowed.

How do your daughters feel about transhumanism?

My kids started using Youtube and iPads and internet before they were age one. We have a four-foot robot that does a few different little things so it’s quite fun. I think they were entirely on board. Their sense of becoming a machine one day or their sense of being really good friends with robots and different types of intelligences, even like Siri, seems much more real than somebody like my mom, who would try to use Siri but doesn’t really get it and doesn’t feel comfortable with it.

This generation of children coming that are going to be so comfortable with technology in their body, out of their body, in their lives, with robot friends driving them around and maybe going to the malls with. I think they don’t see the differences as we see them.

A robot yelling at kids to do homework will be commonplace.

What can we do to prepare our kids for radical technology shifts?

I think the best bet is just to let people have at it. Give them full liberties to do what they want to do if it’s not directly hurting someone. Every generation will probably adjust more easily as they’re brought up directly with these things directly in front of them.

My kids really love the robot in my house. They love it like an animal. That’s gonna affect them for the rest of their lives, especially if they live in a world where they know many artificial intelligences that are super sophisticated and become friends with them. Whereas if my mom had a robot, she’d be like, “This thing’s weird. It’s talking to me.” And that’s just a generational shift. That’s just how the world is.

Speaking of robots, how do you think artificial intelligence will affect raising kids?

We’re all going to have robots in our houses and AI and robots are one and the same, essentially. They’re going to help them get dressed and brush their teeth. They’re gonna be an all-around useful tool that is always there observing and watching over our children. A robot yelling at kids to do homework will be commonplace.

That’s gonna be great, but the bigger question is how far does AI go? In about 10 years, society will have to decide if we want AI smarter than us or if we just want to keep AI where it is and not take that risk.

I’m on the camp that we shouldn’t make AI smarter than us because we just don’t know how that could go. Maybe at some point we can merge directly with AI for some of this uploading technology I already told you about, then that would okay. But right now, we don’t have that technology, so I think developing AI could end up in a Terminator scenario.

You do?

People don’t realize how very quickly robots could become way smarter than us. Within probably 12 months, they’ll be twice as smart, and then within another few years, it’ll be probably 10 times or 100 times smarter.

We’re talking about intelligence that the human brain, our three pounds of meat, can’t even fathom. The world’s changing, and we have to be very careful to make sure that we survive those changes.

How will technology-driven life extension affect parenting?

The social institution of marriage and having children is going to be severely challenged and probably fall apart in the age of serious life extension. At some point, we may not have children inside our womb. We might have them in an ectogenesis or an artificial womb.

We’re gonna have to take a very hard look at what it means to be a biological creature. Those of us who choose to be transhuman beings likely won’t choose to have offspring that are biological.

We’ll probably have forms of love. We’ll probably have forms of empathy and affection. But we won’t be looking at our lives from an anthropomorphic prison.

People don’t realize how very quickly robots could become way smarter than us. Within probably 12 months, they’ll be twice as smart, and then within another few years, it’ll be probably 10 times or 100 times smarter.

Do you think these changes will be enough to stave off overpopulation in a world where nobody dies or people live for much longer?

The studies say we have stabilized at about 15 billion on planet Earth, and the planet can handle that if resources were distributed better. In 20 years, maybe we’re not eating or drinking as much so we don’t need to have fossil fuels. We’d have other new nanotechnologies. Also, I think we get to a point where we’re off-world.

As a transhuman being, I have zero interest in staying on Earth. I love Earth but the exploration aspect of it is really what drives me. I would love to go outside our solar system to see what’s there.

I think our destiny is much grander than we realize. Our DNA’s saying “Oh, I want to have a baby because it’s so sweet” right now, but when we’re merging with machines, we’ll have thoughts that are not driven by hormones.

I love having kids and I couldn’t trade it for anything, but the form of something is gonna follow its function.