This is the video recording of my presentation and consequent Q&A at last week’s Frankfurt AI Meetup. It seems to have struck a chord with a few people and the feedback I got afterward has invigorated me to restart my efforts on ReWriting the Human Story. You can read most of the articles I used to put together my talk here: Technology is a Magnifying Mirror, Not a Crystal Ball; Magic, Manic and Monstrous: How Facebook is Programing Us; Technology is Not Enough; Technology is the How, not the Why or What. Hope you enjoy it.
I want to help out new podcasters as much as I can. So, when they ask me for an interview, I’m almost always looking for a reason to say “Yes.” Here is my 2nd interview for Alexander Padalka’s Ex Human on the lessons of 2020. I hope you find it is worth your time.
During this 40 min conversation, we cover a variety of topics such as: what made 2020 so special; why we should all be grateful for what we have; how our stories skew our views of the evidence; self-driving cars and the definition thereof; space exploration and establishing permanent bases on the Moon and Mars; Hugo Dreyfus’ 1st Step Fallacy and AI; violence, human nature, love, and hate; focusing on what we can, instead of what we can’t change; the practice and process of not giving up; a suggested book-reading list for 2021; why we should ask not for fewer challenges but for a stronger character.
This is the video of my interview for the Formwelt Institute. It is about 40 minutes long during which time Gitta Peyn and I cover a variety of interesting topics such as: how I got called the Larry King of the Singularity; the misperception around the singularity and transhumanism; why humanity and not AI is the biggest threat to humanity; the potential for human speciation; techno-solutionism as the most common mistake we make today; why climate change is first and foremost an ideological, political and philosophical problem; the importance and function of story; progress, price, value and the End of History; why technology is a magnifying mirror.
Last month I did an interview for Johan Steyn. It was a great 45-min-conversation where we covered a variety of topics such as: the definition of the singularity; whether we are making progress towards Artificial General Intelligence (AGI); open vs closed systems; the importance of consciousness; my Amazon bestseller Conversations with the Future; how I started blogging and podcasting; the process of preparing for each interview that I do; ReWriting the Human Story: How Our Story Determines Our Future.
I enjoyed talking to Johan and I believe he has created an interesting podcast with a number of great episodes that are very much worth watching. Furthermore, thanks to him I already interviewed one and have booked a second upcoming Singularity.FM interview with a fantastic guest. So check out Johan Steyn’s website and subscribe to Johan’s YouTube channel.
A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by James Bickerton of the Daily Express. We discussed transhumanism, the Singularity, AI, and the threats to democracy, among other things.
Here is the description from James Bickerton’s YouTube channel:
I interview Nikola Danaylov (@singularityblog), founder of the Singularity Weblog and author of Conversations with the Future: 21 Visions for the 21st Century. We discuss advances in AI, the singularity, whether western political leaders appreciate how fast technology is evolving and the global transhumanist movement.
Hope you enjoy it!
Two days ago I was interviewed by Jon Nielsen of the fantastic Happy Ways Podcast.
During this 50 min interview with Jon Nielsen, we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: why the world is not upside down yet and what are the most productive attitudes towards the current COVID-19 crisis; why the journey – i.e. how we are going somewhere, is perhaps as important as the destination – i.e. where we are going; examples of global, American and Canadian hoarding and what they say about who we are and where we are going; the distinction between what is urgent versus what is important; why we should beware the promises of shortcuts which often take double the time, money and effort while doing collateral damage; whether there could there be a silver lining to the current COVID-19 outbreak; Bill Gates’ seminal 2014 TED Talk about why we are not ready for a pandemic; why, as Mr. Rogers used to say, we should seek the helpers; why the world is one and old nationalist narratives are falling short; why it is crucial to live in neither denial nor panic.
Find out more about Jon Nielsen on his podcasts:
English: The HappyWays podcast, episode 33
For danish listeners: Podcasten RevolutJon!, episode 16
As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full. To show your support you can write a review on iTunes, make a direct donation or become a patron on Patreon.
This is the short closing speech I delivered at the 2019 Dark Futures meetup in Toronto. Not my finest speech but, since event organizer and futurist Nikolas Badminton kindly gave me a video of my keynote, I thought it may be good to share it publicly and get your critical feedback.
Feel free to post your comments below.
Title: NeoTechnocracy: The Future is Worse than You Think
Description: Technology is the new religion, Silicon Valley is the new chosen land and entrepreneurs are the new chosen people. They promise a future that is better than we think – a techno-heaven of abundance and, naturally, immortality. And we are all believers now.
But are we the masters, or are we the tools of our tools? Are we exhibiting religious fetishism for technological objects? Are we creating personality-cults around techno-prophets? Are we falling for new techno-religions – such as dataism? Is power in the hands of those behind, or those in front of the screen?
NeoTechnocracy: The Future is Worse than You Think
In 2016, my wife Julie and I took a road trip through California. Needless to say, Los Angeles and San Francisco were among our points of interest. Now, if you were going by car as we were, chances are that the very first thing you will see upon entering LA is those makeshift camps of tens of thousands of homeless Americans.
Well, 2 years before our trip, Peter Diamandis published his best-seller “Abundance” and told us that the future is better than we think. In it, Diamandis claimed that we can solve all of humanity’s grand challenges with enough capital, technology, and “the right people” – whom Peter titled the Technophilantropists. And, yet, there we were, in his hometown, in the one place in the world with the highest concentration of all of the above, and we witnessed shocking poverty, severe drought, environmental destruction and crumbling infrastructure.
I got so shocked that I decided to do some research. Only to get even more shocked in discovering that if you calculate the cost of living the “Golden State” of California, is, in fact, America’s poorest, because perhaps 1 out of 4 live at or below the poverty line. So while California has the 5th largest economy in the world and the largest in the US, according to McKinsey’s, it ranks 46th among the states for opportunity, 43rd for fiscal stability, and dead last for quality of living.
This paradoxical situation raises many important questions. For example: How is it that poorer countries such as Canada, that have less access to advanced technology and much fewer billionaires, somehow end up having a happier, healthier and longer-living population, free health care, lower crime rates and lower degree of homelessness?
More importantly, is it a mere coincidence that the state with the most billionaires and the most advanced tech is also the poorest?
And, finally, the blasphemous question: What if the future is worse than we think? How would we know it?
Well, we would know it by looking at the present.
We already saw that in California, abundance is a myth. And I have spoken in the past about how tech companies create scarcity to sell abundance while charging an arm and a leg. And how they pretend to be solving humanity’s grand challenges. Take Facebook. Facebook is not solving humanity’s grand challenges. All it does is micro-targeting of ads to sell you things. And so do Google, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, and most others. All in all, if you think of it, despite their noble rhetoric there is very little saving the world and a whole lot of selling going on. Which is why California itself is in the predicament it is in today.
This is the myth of the technophilantropists – a few entrepreneurial nerds who save the world by technological revolution, while making trillions of dollars. But this revolution is not your grandfather’s revolution. Because this revolution is market-friendly. This revolution is one that Venture Capitalists can invest in. This revolution is lead from the top, not from the bottom. And this revolution is for-profit. So its greatest accomplishment may turn out to be translating old-school consumerism into the digital realm.
But, of course, a revolution which merely replaces those on top is not a revolution at all – it’s a coup. Because there is no paradigm change. Thus, Silicon Valley gave us not only fake news but also fake revolution, fake change, fake friends, fake saving the world, fake ethics, fake privacy, fake freedom, and, as we can see in the streets of LA and San Fran – fake abundance.
The reality is that Big Tech is nothing more than a classic extractive industry. So if in the 20th century the biggest companies were mining fossil fuels, today the biggest companies are mining data. And just like mining companies devastated our natural environment, today, Big Tech is devastating our social environment. Just like in the 20 century terrible crimes were committed in the developing countries where we had colonialism and sometimes genocide. Today we have data colonialism and, in places like Myanmar, genocide powered by Facebook – with 10,000 dead and a million refugees. That’s why Amnesty International says that Facebook and Google are a threat to human rights. And, I say that the technophilantropists are simply digital robber barons.
It used to be that biology was destiny. Today it may turn out that data is destiny. And, if it is indeed true that data is power, then absolute data about everything that we do may turn out to be the absolute power. Because as Big Tech collects the data, as they classify, trade and sell it, what they are selling is not mere data. What they are selling is us. They are selling our identity. They are selling our values, they are selling our hopes, they are selling our dreams, and they are selling our fears. They are selling our past. And they are selling our future. Ultimately, they are selling our power of choice and self-determination. With the hidden goal of making our stories work for them. Because they believe that they know what is best for us.
Elon Musk once said that whatever disseminates power enhances democracy, and whatever concentrates power undermines it. I say that this unparalleled concentration of power is pushing us towards neotechnocracy. Neotechnocracy where those who make the tech tell us what to see and not see, what books to read, what movies to watch, what to buy, who to have as our friends, where to go to school, where to live, where to work, whom to marry, who to believe, who to vote for, when to feel happy or sad. Because they are creating the greatest brain-washing propaganda machine the world has ever seen. And we are becoming a panopticon society where personal choice, privacy, and freedom are so threatened that even our thoughts are not likely to remain safe or private forever.
The neotechnocrats believe that all problems, including those created by technology, can and will be solved by more and better technology. And that they are the smartest and best people to solve them, while naturally making trillions of dollars.
That is the story of Silicon Valley. A story of idealism turned narcissism turned sociopathy. A story where, like Facebook, Big Tech started as magic, then it went manic, and now it is going monstrous. They say they want to save the world. I say they may end up destroying it. Because when ignorance, arrogance, and power converge you have a recipe not only for self-deception but also for self-destruction.
The stories I shared with you today are not about the future. They are about how things are – in the present. And an invitation to imagine how they may be different. That is why in South America, the Indigenous Indians speaking Inara dialect perceive the future as being behind them. And their word for future means behind time. Because we can see the past right in front of us, but we can’t see the future. And they perceive the future as time coming from behind us and rushing into view in front of us, as the future becomes the present.
So telling you that the future is better than you think is just as ridiculous a claim as telling you that the future is worse than you think. Because the future is wide open for it is not a place we arrive at. It is not like Disney Land – a trademark property owned by a corporation. And, as long as the idea that the future is something we arrive at, it would be owned by those who sell us that story.
Instead, the future is something that we all create. The future is a public good. It is a story that we all tell collectively. And it is neither worse nor better than we think. It simply is. Or, rather, will be. And, while doing that it may be good to remember Frank Herbert’s 1965 story about the people who turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free only to find themselves enslaved by other people with machines.
Many conferences talk about the fantastic possibilities created by new tech. Dark futures is different. But please don’t be afraid!
Because fear is the mind killer. And because dark times are not necessarily hopeless times.
Please make your mind adjust to the darkness even though it may want to run away.
Because the more hardships we face, the easier it will be to navigate the darkness, and the easier it would be to create a brighter future.
A few weeks ago I got interviewed by Ricardo Lopes for the Dissenter. The interview just came out and I thought I’d share it with you to enjoy or critique. Here is Ricardo’s original description:
#131 Nikola Danaylov: The Singularity, Doing Futurism, and the Human Element
In this episode, we talk about what is meant by the term “Singularity”, and its technological, social, economic, and scientific implications. We consider the technological and human aspects of the equation of economic and technologic growth, and human and moral progress. We also deal with more specific issues, like transhumanism, the ethics of enhancement, AI, and Big Data.
00:58 What is the Singularity?
02:51 Exponential growth
04:42 What would mean to have reached the Singularity?
10:29 The trouble with futurism
15:35 The technological and the human aspects
20:20 What we get from technology depends on how we use it
23:16 Transhumanism, enhancement, and ethics
26:26 AI and economics
31:53 Eliminating boring tasks, and living more meaningful lives
36:37 Big Data, and the risk of exploitation
43:04 The example of self-driving cars
51:32 The human element in the equation
52:20 Follow Mr. Danaylov’s work!
A couple of weeks ago I did an interview on the Always Another Way Podcast. Now, let’s be clear that this was a different kind of interview I did here, so if you want to hear primarily my views on AI, the Singularity, transhumanism, and other advanced technologies, then, this one is not for you. So don’t waste your time.
However, if you want to hear me a bit more on why I believe that the world is transformed by asking questions, on how we make progress, on what is technology, what is human and how I evolved into those views of mine then you may actually enjoy it. I myself felt rather refreshed doing an interview on a topic I don’t talk often about by an interviewer who clearly did her homework and was not afraid to go into new territory.
The green revolution in agriculture has freed hundreds of millions around the world from the risk of starvation. The Internet is providing knowledge-on-tap to people as never before. Lifespans have doubled due to remarkable progress in medicine. New desalination techniques are poised to solve problems of shortage of fresh water. Our remaining resource problems can be solved by synthetic biology, nanoscale molecular manufacturing, and asteroid mining. The threat of climate change can be tamed by carbon capture and geoengineering. Although doomsayers are distracted by rolling news stories that highlight human failings in graphic terms, the big picture is that science and technology are changing the world into a much better place. Right?
Not every futurist is convinced by this techno-optimistic narrative. Here’s a forceful critique by renowned speaker, blogger, and interviewer, Nikola Danaylov:
I am tired of hearing that science and technology will save the world.
It is almost the same as saying “Jesus will save you!”
It evokes the very same passive quasi-religious hope that something or someone out there will magically solve all our problems, bring abundance in our lives, help us live forever and bring back the dead.
I am sorry to break this to you but science and technology will not save the world. Never have…
Our civilization is like an alcoholic with a failing liver – we hope we can 3d bio-print a new one just in time, while failing to acknowledge our self-destructive habits and our own responsibility, thereby failing to address the actual problem, rather than the symptom.
It’s like hoping to win the lottery – it’s not totally impossible, but it is almost certain we won’t. (And even if we do, then what? It will only provide more time, not necessarily a solution.)
And so we sit, and wait, and hope for science and technology to come save the world. And we are getting both fat and lazy as we are eating and driving ourselves to death. Both personally and collectively.
(You can read the full article at https://www.singularityweblog.com/technology-is-not-enough/.)
In this London Futurists online video conference, a number of futurists from around the world will be debating questions such as:
- What are the risks of over-reliance on technology?
- What are the risks of under-reliance on technology?
- What goals should be set for the use of science and technology?
- To what extent is it desirable to try to regulate the development and use of technology?
- What are the most effective methods to steer the development of technology? Politics? Public advocacy? Or what?
Nikola Danaylov – aka “Socrates”, host of the popular Singularity.FM podcast, and author of Conversations with the Future: 21 Visions for the 21st Century
Kim Solez, Director of the course “Technology and the Future of Medicine” at the University of Alberta
Seth Weisberg, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Neuroscience, University of Texas at Austin, previously worked at the Center for Complex Systems and Brain Science at Florida Atlantic University
- Technology is NOT Enough!
- Technology is the How, not the Why or What
- Why the politics of the future is technology and technology is the future of politics
- The World is Transformed by Asking Questions [draft]
- Our Future, AI and Veganism: 6 Reasons Why I Went Vegan
- On Singularity University and the Danger of Being Exponential
The year rolled away so quickly and I completely forgot that in May I was a keynote speaker at the DES 2017 Conference in Madrid, Spain. Luckily, a fan dug out this video from the depths of the internet and, since she liked it very much, I thought I’d share it with you on Singularity Weblog.
The interview runs about 12 minutes long and we cover a variety of topics such as: why in an age when answers are free questions are priceless; the technological singularity or what if your toothbrush is smarter than you; whether we should fear or not fear the singularity; artificial intelligence, technological unemployment and why we are all truck drivers now; chatbots and why technology is a magnifying mirror; why I’m not worried about AI going evil; why technology is no God…
The first time I met Omer Ozdemir was at my Conversations with the Future book reading when Omer drove more than 4 hours just so he can be there. So when he asked me to do an interview for the Turkish Her-An website I was very happy to do it, even if I was sick with the flu at that time.
Her-An is a platform that covers a wide range of popular topics including Transhumanism, Singularity, Advanced Technology, AI, AGI and Venture Capital, and Technology Investing. As Transhumanism and Singularity have evolved into the very center of all these topics, a big part of the articles and interviews in Her-An eventually revolve around Singularity and Transhumanism.
You can see the original article published in Turkish or you can watch the video produced by Omer Ozdemir, directed by Mahmut Taşdemir and edited by Akif Manisalı. Hope you enjoy watching this video as much as I enjoyed recording it because I think these questions managed to push me to go a lot further than usually. 😉
Here are the questions I was asked to reply to:
1. When we analyze the Singularitarian camp through MIRI, FHI and SU, we see SU on one side, led by Kurzweil, and seemingly unconditionally prone to view any technological development as positive and accept them; on the other side we see FHI, lead by Bostrom who is academically
more on the traditional side, vocal about his concerns and what he perceives as problematic, but still enthusiastic about AGI; and on the third side we see MIRI that collaborates also with FHI despite the financial contributions of Peter Thiel’s circle of influence and Eliezer Yudkowsky’s intellectual leadership, both of whom have not been heard much from since 2013. Is this actually a simple matter of differences of opinion, or can this be seen as an attempt by figures like Kurzweil, Bostrom and Thiel to secure their respective positions in the new order they expect will be established as a result of Singularity?
2. What kind of impact would reciting the Ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself / Gnothi Seauton” attributed to Socrates, have on the mankind of our age who are continuously bombarded with information and faced with the technological developments of today? What should we understand from the concept of man “knowing himself”? We observe that in our time, the physical and biological attributes of Man are being discovered much more rapidly and in greater detail, but the same level of insight is not gained on matters related to “Man’s Soul”. Would you say this is a sort of incomplete “knowing of thyself”? What kind of consequences can “not knowing thyself” cause in the long run?
3. Your speech “Emperor Has No Clothes!” put into words what many had thought about but had not spoken out loud by that time. Were you able to get the reactions you were looking for? You had stated that you had received a response from Singularity University, Rob Nail had reached out and listened to your views. What do you think had changed during the considerable time that has passed since then?
4. Science and democracy do not always play by the same rules. Science produces clear answers based on information, whereas democracy is in a sense shaped by the opinions of the majority and contrary to science, progresses based on mutual agreement and compromise. How do you see the Singularitarian community shaping up in American democracy as a “science” community? Do you see Singularity University or similar entities shaping themselves according to the rules of an open society, or do you see them slipping into a community culture, where criticism or mutual agreement is hard to come by under the influence of men of power?
5. You present many with an invaluable source on Singularity/Transhumanism they cannot find anywhere else. Your questions delve into the very essence of many topics you cover. In regards to all those you have inspired with your work, what more would you like do for them if you had much larger resources and reach?
6. The common trait among technologists like Elon Musk, Larry Page and Peter Thiel is that they are entrepreneurs who embrace the motto “just do it”. If we were to define them, their business acumen, technologist characteristics and financial talents would be emphasized greatly. But the idea that they’re “philosophers” or “thinkers” may not come to others’ or even their minds in defining them. Nevertheless, due to their speed in business and the speed of the technologies they invest in, they can easily be placed at the center of any discussion concerning the future of science and technology (For example Google has a seperate company about almost all of the areas we have talked about Singularity/Transhumanism). What should be the conclusion we should reach from this? “Doing” seems to have taken a step in front of “thinking”. How do you evaluate this trend? Can we see these figures as “thinkers” of the new age?
Russia has a strong academic tradition. It also has a large resource of educated individuals in information technologies, especially in software engineering. Russia is also home to Dmitry Itskov and his 2045 Initiative. Although their main target is immortality as opposed to Artificial Intelligence, how do you foresee the role of Dmitry Itskov and in general Russia in immortality and AI research?
India is a is a very fast growing market in software technologies that always has a cost advantage when compared to the rest of the world. Would you say, Indian software engineers not being allowed into the country as a result of the “travel ban” of post-Trump America, would lead to new formations in countries like India who provide vast human resources to the rest of the world?
If we take into account that America is the center for Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity vision and most of the technologies related to it, can the visa policies of the Trump presidency slow down the development of technologies leading to Singularity? In that sense, is it also possible for venture capital companies to increasingly head out of the United States?
How do you see the future of China? We have an idea of the Russian front through Dmitry Itskov’s work, and America seems to be the driving force in all matters related to Singularity, but we know comparatively little about developments in China. You interviewed Hugo de Garis, who along with Ben Goertzel are two figures who moved to China very early on, and place great importance towards the region. Can you share your opinions about China and its place on the road to Singularity?
You have interviewed many experts about Human Level AI, all of them experts in their respective fields. Has all this formed a personal prediction on your part about when Human Level AI can be achieved?
How do you see yourself as: A Singularitarian, a Transhumanist or maybe a Seeker of Truth?