Prepare to see robots in your executive board

Prepare to see robots in your executive board
  • Edouard Tetreau
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A new algorithm, dubbed “Vital,” is capable of defining investment strategies in the life sciences sector. One more step in the automatisation of the decision-making process, and another serious challenge for humankind.

Have you heard of Vital? No? You’re wrong: Vital is soon to play a decisive role your career. Vital is the nickname of the new administrator of Deep Knowledge Ventures, a capital investment firm based in Hong Kong dealing in life sciences. Unlike your average manager, Vital never nods off after his lunch break: during board meetings he consumes neither coffee nor those little cakes you’re so fond of. His eyes will not wander distractedly over the investment memos and presentations compiled by the financial team. He will instead have integrated and memorized them down to the last comma. The investment recommendation he supplies will be unassailable; it will not be subject to excessive emotions or exterior human influences. All this for a very simple reason: Vital is not another human being, but in fact a robot. An algorithm, to be exact. Vital, which stands for Validating Investment Tool for Advancing Life Sciences, uses an infinite capacity of artificial intelligence to memorize all of the information (economic, financial) from global databases in the life sciences sector, in order to select the most promising companies in terms of investment. One more step has been taken. This time, it is no longer about robotizing the execution of decisions made by humans, but rather about them making decisions beside us and even in our place.
The reality of the early 21st century is currently exceeding the expectations of 20th century science fiction. Several thinkers had theorized and announced it, including Français Jacques Ellul in his astonishing predictions of technical advances in his 1977 book Le Système technicien and his 1988 book Le Bluff technologique, 1988. More recently, Raymond Kurzweil predicted in The Age of Intelligent Machine that “by 2045 artificial intelligence will surpass that of humans” (MIT Press 1990). The exponential speed of technological progress and their application by human societies is such that this turning point, called “transhumanism,” will actually arrive much sooner than 2045. It is already here today.
The implications for our societies are infinite. Last Monday, a few of them were particularly well underlined in the annual report of the French National Commission on Informatics and Liberty, the reading of which we will recommend here. The repeated intrusions of internet giants in our private lives, their ability to model and anticipate our behaviors, desires, and expectations, as well as of our financial, professional, and personal situations, pose equally as vast commercial opportunities for these groups as basic threats to our humanity and free will.

That same day, the director of a global French group, and a leader in his field of high-value services, struck me with another lightning bolt: “Yes, it is necessary to quickly reflect on the disruptive capacity of digital technologies in our careers. Starting with the question of employment: how many workers can we maintain in the long term? I do not know.” And here we are talking about a group employing more paid workers in France than Alstom, Siemens, and General Electric France combined.
What will remain human and in our hands, in the long term, when artificial intelligence and robots will have replaced us in all strata of our societies, in everything from the most repetitive to the most sophisticated tasks? Monday night, at the Collège des Bernardins, whose research hub is positioned as one of the principal European think tanks in this domain, a part of the response was given during a discussion of the pioneering work on the human brain by the Bar-Ilan University at Tel-Aviv: “We have succeeded to isolate -in order to one day duplicate them -all of the functionalities of the human brain, save one: the conscience.” Facing this challenge, what can we do? Three things.

1. First of all, we must give new generations the means to master the language of artificial intelligence, in order to dominate it. This signifies a top-to-bottom rethinking of the strategy and Pantegreulian budget of the national education system. That the nation of Descartes and of Jules Ferry does not propose, among other examples, apprenticeships in programming languages as a mandatory second language is a shame, and condemns our future generations to unemployment tomorrow.

2. Next, corporations must quickly serve as examples and give themselves a means of rethinking their economic models, all of which are now threatened by obsolescence due to digital progress. They will accomplish this largely in drawing from the experience and capacities of the “digital native” generation, those under 25.

3. Lastly, and perhaps above all, after being given not only the economic means, but also the regulations (protection of private life and personal data) to protect oneself and to fight on equal terms against Asian and American digital giants, the European Union must reaffirm its originality in the 21st century. However, we will argue here that Europe has another value to promote besides the consumerism, mercantilism, and imperialism of America or Asia: humanism. The stupefying progress of artificial intelligence supplies us with the ideal opportunity to make heard our uniqueness in the 21st century. A century which, despite what pessimists and strong nationalists may say, will be either European or not.

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