Politics and Transhumanism — Interview with Italian Transhumanist MP Giuseppe Vatinno

Is transhumanism a political movement? Should it be? What would be its platform?

Too often transhumanists focus only on advancing technology and scientific discoveries, ignoring the important social and psychological aspects of accelerating change.

Political action can advance change as well, for example through legislation and funding that promotes life extension technologies, research into artificial intelligence, space exploration, nanotechnology and biotechnology. Also, legislation limiting these developments might be opposed at least in some cases. But too few transhumanists get involved in the political process.

In part that’s why until recently the number of openly transhumanist politicians of any important was zero or nearly so. However Italy has recently elected the world’s first openly transhumanist Member of Parliament, Mr. Giuseppe Vatinno. I was lucky enough to get a few moments of his time and asked him a few questions about his background, ideas, and experiences. Here’s what he had to say.

Q1: Since our readers are largely from the U.S., can you explain about the position you hold and how it fits into the Italian governmental system?

La mia posizione è abbastanza semplice; ritengo, nella piena linea transumanista, che la scienza e la tecnologia possano essere utilizzate per migliorare basicamente la qualità della vita della società.In Italia, la situazione è più difficile che altrove perché siamo impregnati di una pseudocultura umanistica, che ha avuto il suo epigone in Benedetto Croce (che neppureera laureato), che ha sistematicamente attaccato la cultura scientifica.Ora la situaizone, lentamente, grazie anche ad internet sta cambiando e si va verso una positiva contaminazione.Certamente non è una posizione politica di maggioranza…

My position is quite simple. I believe, in line with transhumanist thinking, that science and technology can be used to improve the quality of life of our society. In Italy, the situation is more difficult than elsewhere because we are soaked in pseudo-humanistic thinking, which had its main representative in Benedetto Croce (who incidentally did not even complete his studies), and has systematically attacked scientific culture. Now this situation, thanks also to Internet, is gradually changing and we are moving towards a positive contamination. It is definitely not a majority position in politics …

Q2: Tell me a bit about your history in politics. How did you get started?
Ho sempre fatto politica; ho iniziato in realtà negli anni ’80 del XX secolo, ma non mi sono mai dedicato completamente ad essa (per fortuna). Ho studiato fisica teorica all’Università La Sapienza di Roma (la più grande d’Europa), ho fatto poi tre anni post – laurea (si chiamavano allora “perfezionamenti” edora sono equiparabile all’attuale PhD) e mi sono occupato di Information Technology per l’Olivetti, sempre continuando a fare politica.Nel 2002 sono diventato consulente del MInistero dell’Ambiente e da allora mi occupo di consulenza energetico-ambientale presso strutture pubbliche e private. Insegno a master universitari, come al Politecnico di Milano, ma anche “etica ambientale” alla Facoltà di Teologia del Seraphicum, del Vaticano (quindi nessuna contraddizione). Dal 2003 ho ripreso a fare politica attiva con Italia dei Valori (IdV), divenendo Consigliere per le politiche ambientali infrastrutturali del Ministro, poi sono stato membro di importanti Commissioni nazionali e a luglio 2012 entrato in Parlamento.Nel frattempo, nel 2010, avevo lasciato IdV per passare in Alleanzaper l’Italia (Api).

I’ve always been engaged in politics, I started my political activity in the 80s, but without ever dedicating myself completely to it (fortunately). I studied theoretical physics at the University La Sapienza of Rome (the largest in Europe), then I did three years of post-graduate studies (equivalent to today’s PhD), and I then have been working as a computer expert at Olivetti, while continuing my political activity. In 2002 I became a consultant to the Ministry of Environment and since then I have been involved in energy and environmental consulting for both the public and private sectors. I teach masters degrees, for example at the Polytechnic of Milan, but also “environmental ethics” at the Faculty of Theology of the Seraphicum, Vatican (there is no incompatibility). Since 2003 I started to do more active politics with “Italia dei Valori” (IdV), becoming Advisor for environmental policy infrastructure to the Minister, then I served as a member of important national Commissions, and in July 2012 I became a Member of Parliament. In 2010, I left IdV to join Alleanza per l’ Italia (API).

Q3: When did you first become interested in transhumanism? How did you first hear about it?

Il mio primo contatto con il Transumanesimo l’ho avuto nel 2003 finendo per caso nel sito Principia Cybernetica Project, ancora attivo (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/).

Da lì ho conosciuto la WTA (come si chiamava allora) e in primis Max More e la sua filosofia. Mi piacque molto il suo modo di risolvere con l’ “azione” i problemi, il che mi portò anche a studiare molto il pragmatismo anglosassone, (William James).Io mi ritengo un seguace dell’Estropismo nell’ambito del Transumanesimo, anche se è una delle correnti.Nel 2006 ho partecipato a TransVision presso l’Università di Heilsinki.Poi nel 2010 hoscritto anche un libro dedicato: “Il Transumanesimo.Una filosofia per l’Uomo del XXI secolo”. Inoltre sono il direttore scientifico del Chapter h+ , AIT, Associazione Italiana Transumanisti, Presidente Riccardo Campa, Segretario Stafano Vaj e Consigliere Giulio Prisco, con cui collaboro da anni.

I had my first contact with Transhumanism in 2003 when I stumbled upon the site Principia Cybernetica Project, still active (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/).
From there I found the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity+) and, especially, Max More and his philosophy. I liked his “action”-oriented approach to problem-solving, which led me to study in detail the Anglo-Saxon pragmatism (William James). I consider myself a follower of Extropianism, although it is but one of different interpretations of Transhumanism. I attended the TransVision conference at the University of Helsinki in 2006. In 2010 I wrote a book: “Transhumanism. A New Philosophy for 21st Century Man.” I am Scientific Director of the Italian H+ Chapter, AIT, the Italian Transhumanist Association, President Riccardo Campa, Secretary Stefano Vaj and Director Giulio Prisco, with whom I have worked for years.

Q4: How did transhumanist philosophy impact your election results? Did it make easier or harder to get elected?

Il Transumanesimo ha avuto un ruolo sostanzialmente neutro, anche se il mio programma politico è molto basato su elementi tecnologici transumanisti come, ad esempio, l’utilizzo avanzato delle nanotecnologie per risolvere problemi energetici ed ambientali.

Transhumanism played an essentially neutral role, though my political program was based on transhumanist technological elements such as, for example, using advanced nanotechnology to solve energy and environmental problems.

Q5: In your view how will technologies such as AI, robotics, biotech, etc. impact the future of the electorate you represent?

Riprendendo quanto dicevo prima, credo che le nanotecnologie siano assoluatmente al primo posto. Da poco è uscito anche un mio articolo sull’argomento pubblicato su Technology Review Italia.Poi seguono il biotech e parzialmente l’ AI.

Following up on what I said above, I believe that nanotechnology is definitely first. Recently I published an article on the subject on Technology Review Italy. Then, biotechnology and also (partly) AI.

Q6: How do you see technologies such as AI, robotics, biotech, etc. impacting the future of the political process?

Penso che l’impatto delle tecnologie avanzate sia assolutamente determinante e imponga stadrard “de facto” e cioè la forza della tecnologia è che, quella vincente, si usa e basta e supera quasi tutti gli ostacoli burocratico – normativi.

I think that the impact of advanced technologies is absolutely determining and forces “de facto” standards, in the sense that successful technology is just used, and overcomes almost all normative and bureaucratic obstacles.

Q7: Any advice for other transhumanists with political aspirations?

La politica è arte difficile, ed occorr eavere delle qualità molto particolari e saperle usare anche bene; sinceramente, attualmente, non vedo alcun politico con aspirazioni di questo tipo.

Politics is a difficult art, and it requires having very special skills, and using them well. Honestly, at this moment, I don’t see any politician with aspirations of this kind.

Q8: Share anything else you think we should know.

Il messaggio che vorrei inviareai lettori di h+ è che la politica è un mezzo molto potente di cambiamento della società e che per risucire a cambiare il mondo, a migliorarlo, occorre utilizzarla; occorre avereconsenso democratico e quindi spiegare, parlare, intrattenersi con la gente, farle capire che la tecnologia ben utilizzata puà essere digrandissimo aiuto all’umanità.Quando vedo persone terrorizzate dalla tecnologia dico loro: guardate che avete un attrezzo tarnsumanista prorpiosul vostro naso.Loro mi guardano perplessi ed io gli dico: gli occhiali, inventati da un certo Galileo Galilei…

The message that I wish to give H+ readers is that politics is a very powerful tool for social change and that, in order to change and improve the world, politics must be used to achieve democratic consensus, and then explain, talk, interact with the people, make them understand that well-used technology can give a huge help to humankind. When I see people terrorized by technology I tell them: look, you have a transhumanist device right on your nose. They look at me puzzled and I say, your eyeglasses, invented centuries ago and used by a certain Galileo Galilei …

11 Comments

  1. Marco Mai, is well-knowed italian luddist and also a local political man that is against Science and Technology.So his comment is only political propaganda against Transhumanism.
    Giuseppe Vatinno

  2. It really strikes how to 2 precise questions about how technology can influence the electorate and the politic in the future, Mr. Vatinno is not answering and just giving generic comments. In Italy that means that he’s talking fried air, giving air to lungs but does not know what he talks about, typical politcians do that.
    Anyway I do hope nobody willl think of voting a politic person that sincerely thinks technology can rule the world. Only fundamental values like life sacredness from conception to natural end and natural family (man and woman married) protection and support, can be the real balance for decisions that look at the human being prosperity.

  3. I am delighted to see this article, if only because it shows that Italy remains a vital culture with a eye to the future.

    But, then, I’ve got good reasons. My company recently published a (very good) book that touched on Italy’s current crop of cultural problems (Stranieri: Life among Italy’s Tourists, Expats, and Immigrants, by Tristan Gans. You can see it here: http://www.amazon.com/Stranieri-Italys-Tourists-Immigrants-ebook/dp/B008SS74BY/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346984021&sr=1-1&keywords=Tristan+Gans)

    I love the book, and I respect the author, but I found it depressing. In effect, Gans uses Italy as a metaphor or the problems of the West in general.

    The idea that Transhumanism might offer a way out of those problems, is most reassuring.

  4. I like the sentence in the last comment. Eyeglasses, external hearing aids, early limb prosthesis, and wearable watches have all been extensions of lifestyles for centuries.

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