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Meet the cyborg who's running against Donald Trump for president

Zoltan Istvan, a leader of the transhumanist movement to merge humans with technology, is challenging Trump with a plan for America that's beyond radical.

Zoltan Istvan, a man who opens doors with a chip embedded in his hand and wants Americans to live forever, is now taking on President Donald Trump from inside his own party. 

The author, journalist and a leader of the transhumanist movement, which believes humans can use technology to transcend our current physical and mental limitations, is challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination for president and will appear on the New Hampshire primary ballot next year. 

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Former Transhumanist Party candidate Zoltan Istvan is challenging Trump again, this time as a Republican.

Zoltan Istvan

"Our goal is to try to really get the GOP to embrace a new way of looking at the world, one that is futuristic and transhuman," Istvan told me.  "I think it's quite possible to be fiscally conservative and open-minded. Naturally, we're taking on Trump too, who I don't think is helping science and tech much."

The Trump campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Istvan, a 46-year-old former National Geographic reporter, previously ran against Trump in 2016 as the Transhumanist Party candidate and also ran for governor of California as a Libertarian. He generated plenty of media attention by doing much of his 2016 campaigning from a coffin-shaped bus, spreading the gospel of human immortality through technology at each stop. 

The campaign failed to generate many votes, though (one unofficial count finds he received less than 100 votes in total nationwide). For a while, Istvan was hopeful he might convert the media attention into a spot as a high-level adviser or even running mate for one of the name-brand candidates from 2016. He had discussions with Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton and others, but no jobs came from them.

In person, Istvan has the build of a superhero with a certain approachable charisma. He spent years traveling the world for National Geographic before turning to a successful career in real estate in Northern California, where he still lives with his wife, a doctor, and their children. 

Istvan left the real estate game and went all in on his passion for transhumanism, writing the 2013 philosophical sci-fi novel The Transhumanist Wager. Now he continues to promote radical ideas about advancing humanity through science and technology via writing columns for various publications and pursuing politics.

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For a conservative party candidate, Istvan's ideas can seem pretty far out. His platform centers on three core policies: competing with China, introducing a universal basic income and promoting transhumanism, which he defines as "the movement to upgrade human bodies and lives with technology."

He also has a 20-point plan that's, well... calling it revolutionary and radical just doesn't seem strong enough. 

For starters, Istvan would like to amend the US Constitution to introduce a fourth branch of government based on the notion of a digital direct democracy in which citizens vote on policies in real time using new technologies. The foundational document would also be changed to enshrine the right to genetic editing, cloning and other radical sciences meant to promote health and longevity. 

And that's just the beginning. He also hopes to abolish the IRS and income tax, legalize all drugs, make college free and mandatory, fight climate change with geo-engineering, and add language to the Constitution to "lay the groundwork for rights for other future advanced sapient beings like conscious robots and cyborgs."

You heard it here first: 2020 could be the year we finally see presidential candidates debate the merits of cyborg rights. 

Istvan also proposes some novel new technological approaches to some of the more divisive issues in American politics, like abortion. 

"Within 10 years, I expect artificial wombs to improve to be able to handle fetuses around 16 weeks, which would give many women a third choice," he told me. "There are 50 million abortions a year. No longer will one have to be pro-choice or pro-life, but one can also say: I'd like to give my child up for adoption via an artificial womb." 

Istvan acknowledges that a lot of his platform might sound pretty futuristic, but he says transhumanism is already at the heart of world-leading companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft.

"We are using more and more radical tech in our lives, and someday soon, a lot of that tech will be making its way into our bodies. I already have a tiny chip implant in my hand that I can text with, start a car, and open doors."  

Istvan's last presidential campaign was more a curiosity, but this time around his operation is significantly more serious. 

He's on the primary ballot of a major party with other serious challengers like former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld and former Rep. Joe Walsh from Illinois. He tells me fundraising is already underway and he plans to campaign from New Hampshire and Iowa and in bigger states like Texas and California in the hopes of convincing Republicans that a future in which cutting-edge technology is everywhere -- including inside our bodies -- is better than four more years of Trump.

Originally published Nov. 18, 10:39 a.m. PT.