Nikola Danaylov– also known as “Socrates” (for his love of learning and acknowledgement of the vast unknown)– is the creator of the most widely recognized blog, podcast, and symposium about the impact of technology, exponential growth, and artificial intelligence. Nikola has been features in many documentaries, blogs, podcasts, and magazine. His Singularity 1-on-1 interviews have had over 2.4 million views on iTunes and Youtube, and have been featured on international TV, as well as on some of the biggest blogs in the world such as BBC and ArteTV. In this interview he shares his thoughts on how we can prepare ourselves for major technology changes.
* Be sure to check out Nikola's upcoming live webinar on Thursday, September 3rd at 5PM EST, where he'll dig deeper into these topics and answer your personal questions. Only 10 spots available.
Who are you, what is your story, and how did you get involved with technological singularity?
My name is Nikola Danaylov. I’m a blogger and podcaster at Singularityweblog.com. My podcast is called Singularity 1-on-1. Basically my story is a story of failure. I was pursuing a master’s degree in political science and international relations, with a focus on armed conflict. In 2006-2007, I was looking for a fresh, new topic that I could write my master’s thesis on–something new and unique that hadn't been done before.
What happened was I decided to write a paper on drone warfare. At the time drones were very new, and the US military was the only military in the world that had drones. They were very expensive and not very good. They only had maybe a couple dozen. I started doing research on drone warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan and ended up writing a thesis called Artificial Intelligence in Times of War, in which I argued the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may not be a conflict of world-views or ideologies but rather that robots had the power to choose whether humans would live or die.
Basically, you could press a "send" button, and the drone does everything on its own, and the only thing that the drone waits for approval of is to bomb or not to bomb, but even that can be automated today. Of course you can override it and go into manual anytime you’d like, but basically it’s getting to the point where everything is automated.
After I earned my master's degree I sent job applications for anything I could apply for, and I only had one interview. And obviously that interview was not very good. The interesting thing is that one of my applications was for a blog that was the only blog in the world on singularity called Singularity Hub. It had an open open position for writers. I knew about technological singularity and had reesarched it for the last couple years, and I liked the blog, so I thought, "Why not apply?"
I sent the application and they never responded to me. After a couple of weeks of not hearing back, I realized, maybe I could do it on my own– build the blog myself instead of working for someone else.
It was initially scary because I did not know anything about websites, blogging, marketing, etc. All I knew was that I was a decent writer, and was knowledgeable about the topic of technological singularity. I thought that maybe I could do it and it was worth trying.
The first thing that I did was start the website Singularitysymposium.com. It’s still available today. It took me three months to put up my first homepage. I was horribly slow and terrible all together. The good point was that it got me going. Then I asked myself how I could improve.
About six months later, I discovered WordPress and blogging. It was absolute genius! Everything was very easy, and there was no need to deal with coding or website infrastructure. All I needed to do was get the site up and start writing– which I was comfortable with. Then I started Singularityweblog.com and have been blogging ever since.
Then another six months later, I discovered podcasting. I thought, "Well, text is cool, but people like audio better." It’s more emotional and people can connect to you when they hear your voice. Just like when I started my first website I was very scared. I wasn’t familiar with audio recording or the necessary equipment. Also, I have a strong Bulgarian accent, so I was worried I would not be able to get people to listen to my show because of my accent, even if I had good content.
Despite my fears, I decided to give it a try and see what happened. Lo and behold, I slowly started building my audience, and today my blog reaches about 50 to 60 thousand people a month, my podcast has had over 2 million views, and YouTube channel brings brings around 120,000 people a month. I’m the biggest independent blog on technology, exponential growth, and artificial intelligence.
Why don’t more people talk about technological singularity? In my opinion it’s one of the most exciting and scary topics of discussion.
Back in the day when l told people I’m a blogger or podcaster, they didn’t know what I was talking about. And when I mentioned “technological singularity”, they thought I was crazy. Singularity seemed like some type of geeky, nerdy, absolutely out there, never-going-to-happen idea.
However, the past five to six years the idea has become more and more popular. Hollywood movies (e.g. Ex Machina) have come up on the topic and are encouraging people to imagine the future. On top of that, people like Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak have raised public awareness of artificial intelligence and have warned us that AI might be the most dangerous invention of our time.
So while the topic is not quite into the mainstream quite yet, it is getting very close. I’ve observed the popularization of the idea coming out of the dark.
What scares you the most about the future of technology?
People scare me the most. We know for sure people want to harm other people today. We know for sure if people have the means, some people will gladly kill as many people as possible. I’m not so worried about artificial intelligence itself, but I’m worried about some people taking advantage of these weapons of mass destruction and figuring out how to leverage exponential technologies to do as much damage as possible.
Technology is a double edged sword. It provides unique opportunities for us to do better than ever before. But it also provides bigger opportunities for some people to do damage. When the capability to good grows, unfortunately the capability to do bad grows also.
How can everyday people prepare themselves for the trend toward technological singularity?
There are a number of ways for us to prepare. The biggest first step is is to educate yourself. People fear that which they do not know. For us to reduce fear and anxiety of the future changes we’re inevitably going to undergo, the best way to do that is educate ourselves about the possibilities.
This is why I’ve committed my life the past five to six years for this purpose: to raise awareness and conversation with the smartest people on the topics of transhumanism, technology, 3D printing, and anything else that moves along the lines of exponential technologies or development.
Exponential technologies have the potential to either destroy us and make us extinct like dinosaurs, or make us transcend this stage of human species.
At first it may seem intimidating to learn about technological singularity. How can people ease into this knowledge?
A good place to begin is the “START” page on my website. My impression is that once people click there and see the first group of resources listed, they will be much more comfortable to dig deeper. Each of those articles contains the foundational issues related to those disciplines.
In my articles I do my best to cover the major risks, promises, controversies, and everything you need to know to get into the field with confidence. Topics are listed in order from easiest and fundamental to more difficult and technical.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, what are key social or technological trends to look out for? Anything they should frame their product/service ideas off of? How can entrepreneurs fuel the systemic change necessary to prepare for technological changes?
(1) Take responsibility for your actions, entrepreneurs. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Try and do it yourself. Of course, this doesn't have to be on your own. Partner with people who have complementary skills. For instance, if you’re a marketing guy, find someone who is good at the engineering things. That’s what a good team is. Not people who have redundant skills, but rather people who have complementary skills. This is how entrepreneurship works.
(2) Start with a big vision: WHY? What do you want to accomplish and what is the best case scenario? Reverse engineer the necessary steps you need to take today so in sufficient time you can get with that vision.
(3) Try to utilize exponential technology. Technology is an amazing leverage. It provides you the capability to reach millions of people with the same amount of effort– the multiplier effect.
(4) If you’re creating a product or service, don’t create something for the world that you live in, but create it for the world that will likely be at the moment your product or service will be ready for usage.
For example: Let's say today it's 1900, and the world that I live in needs horseshoes. I’m going to be a blacksmith and make as many horseshoes as I can. I’m going to start a blacksmith shop and mine are going to be better than everybody else. Then when I get old I’ll teach my son and it will be a good family business.
But by the time I establish the business, a few years pass, and suddenly the automobile age is afoot. By the time you open your business and have regular customers, you’re already on your way out!
Instead, in 1900 it would be better for me to think about building a tire manufacturing business. Even though the demand for that today would be zero, by the time I am ready to sell with all my resources ready, the world will need tires.
Again, try to imagine the world as it will be in two to three years or at the time your product will be ready. Work for that world, not world you live in today.
For people still in school: It’s still very hard to tell, but what jobs/careers do you think will decrease in value due to changes in technology? What careers would have greater opportunities in the future? Thoughts on technological unemployment?
I think technological unemployment is going to be a substantial issue in the next decade or so. I don’t think there are many jobs that will be completely safe from technological unemployment. However, I will give two pieces of technical advice to minimize that risk:
(1) Be an entrepreneur (and take responsibility).
If you are going to work for somebody else today, basically you are essentially saying, "I give up responsibility. As long as that company, corporation, government, or person hires me and keeps me on their wage, I'll be okay." However, nothing is in your hands, and everything is in their hands. You surrender in their control, whereas if you’re an entrepreneur, you have a lot more control– certainly not guaranteed success– but you have a better chance of being in control, adapting, and educating yourself when times change. You are are a lot more flexible as an indvidual and entrepreneur than when you’re a part of a big corporation or government.
One thing is for sure: change is constant. You will never keep your job for the rest of your life.
Imagine you are at AT&T 20 years ago. You're working in the room where you connect cables and telephone switches. Boom, this jobs becomes automated, and everyone goes mobile.
(2) Pick a field that will not be easily outsources to machines.
For instance, let’s say someone wants to be a truck driver entrepreneur driving long-haul transportation between bigger companies. Ok fine that’s great. Look around the world you live in: automated trucks and cars are already being built. Autonomous cars are already legalized in some states. So is that a good idea to be a truck driver in a world where trucks can drive themselves?
Pick a field that will not be easily automated. One that people are likely to hold dominion over. Something artistic, that makes you unique, human, and irreplaceable. Something that cannot be produced on the production line or imitated by an algorithm. Something you have a unique contribution of that has your own fingerprints.
It’s funny how in the last decade fields in the arts have received a bad reputation in terms of employability and “utility”. But in the future, it’s possible that being humanly artistic will be the only way to differentiate and survive amongst technologies.
You’re so impartial on your podcast, and I can’t tell what your stance is on technological singularity. What is your (current) belief? Do you lean toward the skeptical biologist perspective or the convinced computer scientist perspective?
I do believe in the singularity, but I don’t think it’s going to be as easy or as likely as i imagined it to be originally. After interviewing the best 175 people in the world around this topic, I think it’s going to be harder than I anticipated, and there will be more problems than I originally thought.
You’re a phenomenal interviewer, and manage to pick apart your guests’ points systematically and elegantly. Do you have any strategies that help you get the root of someone’s argument, and nudge them past the attachment to their own views.
My secret consists of two things:
(1) Do your homework.
I was a kid that never did my homework in school. When it comes to interviewing or anything you want to get ready for in life, you have to do your homework.
What do I mean by that? Get as much research and information as possible about the person you’re going to interview, discuss, or debate. If I interview someone that has a book, I read that book cover to cover. if they have multiple books, I read all of their work in full– not even the reviews. If they have a blog, op-ed articles, or any personal pieces, I go and read them. If they have a podcast, I listen to it. I watch as many previous interviews as I can with them. I want to see how they behave on camera. I want to know what type of questions they’re typically asked. I want to know major issues in their fields, and understand their biggest supporters and biggest skeptics.
Then I also want to educate myself on the topic in general, not necessarily just the person in particular. I try to read two or three other books from the greatest people in the field. This way I cover as wide of a spectrum as possible. I want to know if there are any weaknesses and strengths of their theories.
Finally, I want to know things about them personally. Family, kids, personal habits, hobbies, pets, etc.
My preparation can take anywhere between four to five days to a week. Occasionally I take two to three weeks for a single comprehensive interview.
When I’m interviewing somebody, I do have questions I have prepared, but I never give the questions I am going to ask beforehand. Authenticity is very important to me– I want authentic, replies, not perfect replies.
Also, I adjust and adapt to the person. I want to have a real life discussion not just a question-and-answer. I try to keep the conversation, natural, engaging, and human.