I recently had the opportunity to sit down with friend and 2016 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who last month polled at 10 percent in general election picks. One of the things we spoke about was the future of political campaigning. Johnson won his New Mexico governorship in 1994 before the internet was being used much. Now, mastery of the internet and courting new media is a requirement to win any major election.
But the near future will be even more complex, with virtual reality, wearable tech, and holographic imagery all part of the show. The entire way a candidate runs for the presidency—from crowded rallies to handshakes at New Hampshire diners to their campaign buses—may soon change.
Politicians like Bernie Sanders already get it. He recently did a campaign event in virtual reality, a speech some are calling a historic first. Some of the advantages of campaigning in virtual reality might not be obvious. But on the YouTube video, one commentator talked about being able to get up close to read what was on Bernie's notes. That sounds cool, indeed—and not something you can't do in standard reality unless you can get past muscular security guards.
As a presidential candidate myself, I also recently gave a virtual speech in Second life. At the Terasem Annual Colloquium on the Law of Futurist Persons, I spoke to an audience that consisted of about 50 avatars—some who appeared as creatures, cyborgs, and significantly mutated transhuman beings. My own avatar—kindly created by transhuman spiritual organization Terasem for this event—looked quite like me, and even had the afternoon shadow, which apparently I'm often guilty of having.
Many experts cite President Obama's tech savvy 2008 and 2012 campaigns against John McCain and Mitt Romney, respectively, as a large reason he won. Obama was one of the first candidates to place ads in video games and other online environments. Some of his most remembered game ads were in NFL Madden 13 and NBA Live 09.
So far, no visible political candidates have really upped the ante with wearable tech, partially because we're so brainwashed with them wearing the same boring clothes for the last half century: tie, slacks, and coat. That's not to say American politics haven't been male-dominated over the last half century, or that US presidential elections, specifically, haven't always been male-dominated. Of course they have been.
But I hope that will change in the future. Built-in tech and LED lighting to candidate's shirts might enable viewers to see them better in various environments, like when it's shady outside or at night. In fact, we might be able to even feel our candidate's presence by shirts that create energy fields—or what some might call auras. At the very least, shirts could tell people candidate's moods if we wanted—already pets have collars that do that.
For me, wearable tech would be personal. In one of the biggest speeches so far of my campaign, I opened the Financial Times Camp Alphaville event in Europe. It was one of the hottest July London days on record at 95 degrees. Like everyone, I sweat right through my shirt—and it didn't look pleasant. I would've appreciated a shirt that could've automatically cooled me. I learned later that such innovations are on their way or already here.
But it's not just wearable tech. It's also implants. I have a small microchip in my hand—an RFID NFC implant—that can transfer business cards to smart phones with a quick hand swipe—and it's also programmed to text people: Win in 2016! It's a fun way to connect with supporters.
Coming in the future too will be augmented reality that mixes with the normal world. If Donald Trump wants a wall across the border, he can show it to us in live stream. The same can go for presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party—show me 3D pie charts of how democratic socialist policies will not dramatically raise people's taxes. These tech advantages can surely help get important messages across.
Likely, the biggest change we'll see in the 2020 presidential elections will be the use of holographic images of candidates. Already we have robots that can be Skyped through and wander around interacting with people, but the holographic image will be the real deal. Slain rapper Tupac has done some concerts this way, and it's been a big hit with fans. The holographic tech, which is already here but is currently prohibitively expensive, will likely eventually replace video conference calls.
In fact, by 2020, we're likely to have driverless campaign buses filled with only holographic images traveling in them, ready to campaign and interact with journalists. Just in case you haven't had enough of Hillary Clinton, you could have ten buses with her hologram self campaigning in all the Super Tuesday states at once.
On my campaign bus, we had drones. They were never sophisticated enough to carry things very well, but in 2020 I'm sure candidates will be using them to hand out bumper stickers, carry banners at rallies, and project holographic images—including maybe fake cheering crowds.
It's possible the coming age of artificial intelligence and robots may replace the need for politicians. At least human ones.
Lest we think future elections are all about the candidates, perhaps the largest possibility on the horizon could come from digital direct democracy—the concept where citizens participate in real time input in the government. I gently advocate for a fourth branch of government, in which the people can vote on issues that matter to them and their decrees could have real legal consequence on Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency.
Of course, that's only if government even exists anymore. It's possible the coming age of artificial intelligence and robots may replace the need for politicians. At least human ones. Some experts think superintelligent AI might be here in 10 to 15 years, so why not have a robot president that is totally altruistic and not susceptible to lobbyists and personal desires? This machine leader would simply always calculate the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, and go with that. No more Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, or whatever else we are.
It's a brave new future we face, but technology will make our lives easier, more democratic, and more interesting. Additionally, it will change the game show we go through every four years called the US Presidential elections. In fact, if we're lucky—given how crazy these elections have made America look—maybe technology will make future elections disappear altogether.
Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author ofThe Transhumanist Wager, and presidential candidate for theTranshumanist Party. He writes anoccasional columnfor Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.