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The surprising case for Gary Johnson

There's only one candidate who seriously cares about science and technology.


Zoltan Istvan


Posted on Sep 12, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 1:11 am CDT

Gary Johnson recently wrote me that he wants to leave AI technology and its development to the engineers and programmers—and not the politicians. He’s not worried about the Terminator. If elected president, he doesn’t want to regulate the AI industry, which could end up the most transformative industry in history. 

These are bold words from Johnson to many, but they are in line with Johnson’s Libertarian values—which can be summed up as: People can and should be trusted, so it’s best to leave them alone as much as possible. The country’s founders etched similar ideas into the U.S. Constitution.

As with AI, Gary Johnson also gave me a similar response about gene-editing technology. Despite some fears surrounding CRISPR/cas9 tech, Johnson wants America to lead the gene-editing revolution. He knows it’s important that America is at the forefront of what could be the science that eradicates all disease in this century.

While Trump and Clinton hardly discuss science, Johnson is willing to talk core STEM ideas and policies that will not only affect Americans but every person on the planet. Johnson wrote me that he wants a 3D printer in the White House and a self-driving Secret Service car. He’s also excited—similar to Google’s founders—about longevity research.

All things considered, these positions raise a serious question: Is Gary Johnson the optimum presidential candidate for quickly moving forward science and technology?

The biggest issue facing Johnson right now is he’s not being allowed in the presidential debates. 

I know what you’re thinking: He can’t win, so the answer doesn’t matter anyway. That’s simply untrue. A third-party candidate can be elected this year if they can just win a few states in the election. And with anti-Trump candidate Evan McMullin helping in Utah, and Johnson performing well in Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, and New Mexico (the state he was a two-term governor in), it is possible Johnson could win a few states. This is critical, because if Trump or Clinton can’t reach 270 electoral votes, then the vote goes to Congress. And in Congress, Johnson could be the compromise vote—the socially liberal, fiscally conservative former governor.

The biggest issue facing Johnson right now is he’s not being allowed in the presidential debates. The private enterprise that runs the debates has set a threshold of 15-percent polling requirements. (That’s questionable to begin with: Over half of Americans don’t like Trump or Clinton as president. There’s no guarantee Trump or Clinton would poll above 15 percent if people were given a multiple choice question with a “none of the above” option.)

Add to this all a more important fact: 62 percent of Americans in a recent poll have said they want Gary Johnson in the debates. Another poll said 52 percent wanted Johnson in. Even Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger have voiced their support of Johnson in the debates. Clearly, America wants a third voice to add diversity and perspective.

As a presidential candidate who has been campaigning for nearly two full years and has been immersed in the American political environment, I can tell you the debate requirements are prejudiced in favor of the Republicans and Democrats. The debates are about media and awareness; nearly as many people are expected to watch the debates as the Super Bowl. To not be allowed in them is to simply not be able to win the election. America’s two-party system knows this, and so there’s plenty of incentive to keep out a third-party candidate, who can act a spoiler.

The pace of science and technological innovation is changing far faster than tax codes, immigration policies, and social security reform. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Of course, some limits should be in place to be in the debates. After all, there are a few hundred candidates running for the world’s most powerful job. Logic would dictate that if you’re a legitimate contender for the U.S. presidency, then you should be allowed to debate. Johnson is the only other third-party candidate on all 50 state ballots. He not only technically has a path to the presidency, but in polls, he’s already showing about 13 million votes for him. One of his last polls put him at 12 percent nationally (and with the assumed 3-4 percent margin of error in his favor, that number could actually be 16 percent). The problem is that Johnson only has about 14 days to get into the debates before he’s shut out. The first presidential debate is on Sept. 26.

My own goal for the last two years has been to influence the major presidential contenders and tell them how much science and technology are going to change the world in the next few decades. People forget that science and technological innovation is growing exponentially. That means the amount of change that happened in the last 10 years will now happen in the next five years. And then 2.5 years from then, and so on.

It seems like just yesterday, as a nation, we were wondering about driverless cars. And now they’re on the road. Or we laughed about drones delivering pizzas, and now it’s happening. Or we talked about telepathy as it was science fiction, and now brainwave headsets can be bought in superstores. The pace of science and technological innovation is changing far faster than tax codes, immigration policies, and social security reform. I have biohacker friends that are about a year away from electively amputating their limbs for robotic limbs, which will soon be as functional as human limbs. And in a decade’s time, they could be far better. The world is changing.

Only one candidate—Gary Johnson—seems to even be acknowledging the change. And more importantly, he has ideas to let that positive change continue.

I had the luck of spending a few days alone with Johnson at his home in New Mexico a few months ago. His interest in these changing technologies is impressive. This is a man who genuinely is interested in getting rid of all disease on Earth, who wants to take human longevity research seriously, and who wants to make sure disabled people have the very best technology that America can create for them.

In the STEM communities, we’ve been desperately waiting for leadership that doesn’t just create more red tape for research and progress but actually is passionate about removing it. If universities, companies, and research teams could just be able to freely pursue the research and ideas they want, much new innovation could be born.

If you’re a science and tech geek like me, consider the alternative to the major parties this year and their candidates. Consider voting for someone who’s interested in really moving science and technology forward. But most importantly, demand that Gary Johnson is included in the debates. At the very least, it will be great to hear a candidate talk about science and technology like they love it.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and the 2016 presidential  candidate of the Transhumanist Party. 

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*First Published: Sep 12, 2016, 10:41 am CDT