Q1: Nikola we were talking about how you first discovered transhumanism and started your own blog because you had access to the tools to do it. Can you say a few words about the idea of DIY (do it yourself) and how it relates to your vision of transhumanism?
I first discovered transhumanism after reading Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near”. I then went on to do some further research and came upon Max More’s web site and seminal transhumanist articles. Discovering tranhumanism was an inspiring experience, one that pushed me to proactively search for win-win scenarios. I still feel rejuvenated by such a positive predisposition – that we can and we should improve things, be it with respect to the human condition or in general.
In 2009 I completed my MA in Political Science and began looking for a job. I sent hundred’s of resumes (stopped counting after the 200) and got a single interview. One of those applications which I never heard back from was a call for writer/contributors for Singularity Hub. I continued reading the blog and after not hearing anything back from them I simply concluded that I can actually write on my own about the technological singularity, transhumanism, technology and the ethics thereof. All I needed to have was a website. (A conclusion which was no doubt highly influenced by the philosophy of transhumanism.)
So, without any technical background in programming or web-design whatsoever, I started learning basic html. It took me almost 6 months but eventually I created SingularitySymposium.com. About six months later I discovered Word Press and fell in love with that platform. I finally had an easy way to produce and manage my online content. SingularityWeblog.com was born. Another 6 months later I got the courage to begin my own podcast. This was not an easy decision. I had legitimate fears such as the fact that I was more or less a beginner on the topic, that I have a strong Bulgarian accent and lacked both the technical tools and the knowledge to produce a podcast. Still, I decided to take action and slowly, episode by episode, my Singularity 1 on 1 podcast has been getting better and better while simultaneously growing its audience. Production is still rough around the edges but it is improving and people seem to appreciate my high-profile guests, the good intellectual content and my personal authenticity, despite my many flaws.
Q2: Give me a quick overview of your site, podcast and related projects if you can. You have an upcoming interview with Ray Kurzweil? His new book is generating some excitement. Anything else interesting people might want to know about.
Today I am mostly focussing on blogging at SingularityWeblog.com in general and podcasting on Singularity 1 on 1 in particular. My blog gets around 50,000 unique visitors per month, with occasional fluctuations of almost 100,000 and has 2,000+ email and RSS subscribers. My podcast has produced over 90 episodes (including 70 one-on-one interviews) surpassing 105,000 views on YouTube and 260,000+ audio downloads on iTunes, Zune, Blackberry Podcast. At the moment I am also running my first ever crowd-source-funding campaign aimed at raising the money needed to produce the next 30 episodes of the show. If I succeed at that goal I plan to make numerous improvements both on the podcast and the blog. The goal is to provide more, and even higher quality content to the transhumanist and singularitarian communities while shinning light on both the unparalleled dangers and promises that we face today, as well as the diversity of people involved in all relevant fields. Ultimately, I want to make SingularityWeblog.com and Singularity1on1.com financially self-sustaining which in turn will provide the means for further growth and becoming one of the platforms where people go to get educated, discuss and debate H+ topics.
I have been very fortunate to interview many incredible people on Singularity 1 on 1. People such as Dr. Steven Wolfram, Max More, Aubrey de Grey, Natasha Vita-More, Peter Diamandis, Vernor Vinge, Steve Mann, Anders Sandberg and many others. However, I’ve been interested in interviewing Ray Kurzweil ever since I started SingularityWeblog.com According to Marvin Minsky Ray Kurzweil’s new book “How To Create A Mind” is his best so far. Thus I was extremely happy when I managed to book a 1 hour interview with Ray in the middle of October. Hopefully we will be able to discuss not only his interesting new book but also a few other things that he usually doesn’t get asked about. Let me also say that this is the first time that I announce my upcoming interview with Ray but he is just the first among many other high-profile guests that I am working on bringing on Singularity 1 on 1, provided I succeed in raising the funds.
Q3: You mentioned your view (which I share) that transhumanism is a fundamentally positive or optimistic philosophy. I first encountered the idea via the Extropian movement and the ideas of Max More. Can you say a bit more about this from a personal perspective?
Max More is the transhumanist philosopher. I remember first reading some of his shorter articles such as A Letter to Mother Nature, The Proactionary Principle, Transhumanism: Towards A Futurist Philosophy and thinking “How did I fail to discover this earlier?!.” It is fair to say that he has had a substantial intellectual impact on me. In fact, as I said before, you might go as far as claiming that I might have not taken things into my own hands and began blogging and podcasting were it not for the fact that I read some of his works first. What is even more impressive to me about both Max and Natasha Vita-More is the fact that they both not only send out their own strong personal messages but, more importantly, live by those themselves. As a philosopher I believe that this absolutely must be case. You cannot be credible if you live by “do as I say and don’t do as I do”
Q4: On your site you talk a bit about Socrates and your relationship to his thinking. Was Socrates a transhumanist?
This in fact is a very interesting question. One that I haven’t considered deeply before but I really should.
So, let me see. In my opinion Transhumanism is a way of thinking. A way of looking at the world. A way of seeing where we can improve things, looking for ways to do so and taking action. It is not a fixed point but rather a path – a “do” (in the eastern sense of the world), a journey, a process, a praxis where we can all improve and strive to improve but never reach perfection. It is a way of living with an open mind that nothing is too sacred to be examined closely under the lens of critical thinking, logic and science. That everything is possible. And that we can and ought to do something about it.
For example, when I interviewed Max More on Singularity 1 on 1 his final message was “Question Everything”. I really can’t think of anyone else ever who has done a better job than Socrates in doing just that. Socrates was the first to courageously examine and question everything, to confront our ignorance, to live his message by example and to be willing to pay the price for it. He was also one of those rare few who was willing to follow the evidence wherever it takes us, take risks, be wrong and change his mind if necessary. Those are many things that I can see today in transhumanism in general and people such as Max More, Giulio Prisco and Natasha Vita-More, in particular.
So, while at this point I am not prepared to call Socrates a transhumanist, I would say that in many ways he has definitely had a major impact on transhumanism.
Q5: We talked a bit about our background in more negative modes of thinking. What in your view is the right way to consider risks without getting bogged down in worrying and trapped into ignoring very real positive possibilities?
We discussed that my original academic background was in armed conflict and just war theory – both emotionally taxing and even depressing subjects. We live in an age of unprecedented dangers such as nuclear or other WMD’s and global warming to name just two. Yet we also live in an age of absolutely unprecedented opportunities that may allow us to reshape not only our personal fates, but also that of humanity, the planet and perhaps even the universe. So, the questions then is what is the best starting point in order to address our challenges.
Well, first we must deliberately choose between the “glass is half-full or half-empty” mental predisposition. After studying history for a while I can say that as far as I know there has never been anyone who was a pessimist but managed to produce a positive outcome in anything that matters. So, if we want to make real positive change we must be optimistic that such change is possible in the first place. Only then can we take any action whatsoever.
Now, taking any action is always more risky then simply saying that “it all sucks and is not worth it anyway” – which is what a true pessimist will probably say. Taking action can and very often does lead to failure. But was is the alternative – not taking action is guaranteed to bring about more of the same – that is certain failure. So, an optimist predisposition is the first step towards resolving any of humanities grand challenges. And yes, the risks are there but we can’t really control those. What we can control is our attitude and what we do about them. And that, I believe, is a very valuable way of seeing both the world in general and our place in it in particular.
Q6: Give me the details on your current fund raising efforts.
Singularity 1on1 has just launched their first crowd-source funding campaign on IndieGoGo. The goal is to raise $30,000 for the next 30 episodes.
Singularity 1 on 1 is a series of interviews with high-profilers from a variety of disciplines discussing topics related to the technological singularity, transhumanism and exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetics, robotics, synthetic biology, nanotech and so on.
In its 2 1/2 years of running and 90+ past episodes Singularity 1on1 has featured 70 well known guests such as Peter Diamandis, Max More, Stephen Wolfram, Cory Doctorow, Natasha Vita-More, Brian David Johnson, Steve Mann, Hugo de Garis, David Ferrucci, Aubrey de Grey, David Chalmers, Kevin Warwick, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Jaron Lanier, Robert J. Sawyer and many others.