digital conversion

Is the digital party running out of time?

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Human skin tubes to repair burns, mental manipulations, automated creations, killer robots...the technical proposals offer a wealth of possibilities that can turn into a nightmare. Worse, automata coupled to the web install a "digital environment" that could make us die slowly. Because it seems that everything has to be paid for: security by cops, access by slavery, exchanges or new currencies at an exorbitant environmental cost... The Presans network is a scout of the world to come. As an intermediary between experts and large groups, it organises the Dystopia meeting every year as a rollercoaster ride between fascination and hell. A punch of testimony among those who still want to dream...
 
Desillusion or disappointment? The digital party is running out of time. Alerts are multiplying around the world: James Bridle denounces the hold of digital platforms in New Dark AgeElon Musk considers that Artificial intelligence threatens our civilizationTristan Harris left Google, disgusted with the methods of the Persuasive Tech Lab from MIT... to create just a year ago, the Center for Humane Technologyalong with other GAFA dissidents. These defections are throwing up trouble... What if putting the world into algorithms wasn't a vast operation of fragmentation and colonisation?
 
With his event DystopiaThe Presans (pronounced Presence) platform, dedicated to foresight, intends to "break with the false charms of utopia and get rid of a naive relationship with new technologies". Its founder Albert Meige remembers: "At 15 I perceived the risks of surveillance and taking control over individuals. We're surrounded by technology that induces negative externalities that we need to talk about! »
 
As a result, the two hundred people who joined the Presans community on March 5 in Beaubourg did not come out unscathed. Tossed back and forth between dreams and nightmares, they touched on the possibilities as well as the drifts that are on the horizon. In addition, there was a profusion of impromptu experiences and strong emotions. One could appreciate seeing the Black HornetThis is a micro observation UAV from the French forces, presented by Emmanuel Chiva, Director of the new Defence Innovation Agency with a budget of 1.2 billion per year. While the audience was captivated by the magical hour, its master, Rémi Larrousse, explained the importance of cognitive bias because "our attention is selective, it makes false correlations and our memory is a victim of illusion". An immersion that allows us to grasp the considerable gap that exists between embodied human intelligence and algorithms!
Another tasty moment, the meditation with Mister Phi, alias Thibaut Giraud, about Black Mirror... the series that reveals the state of our society alienated from the show. In the episode 15 million merits you can see that the worst despair becomes the best show to sell. Director Charlie Brooker's way of making the inhuman situations in our lives feel behind the screens.
 

Promises that go awry

Yes, digital has become a medium. Liveable or not, that's the question? For Michel Baudouin-Lafon, a specialist in man-machine interfaces in Paris-Sud, increasing cognitive capacities was the goal of Internet pioneers such as Douglas Engelbart. But it seems that "all the promises have gone awry: The web was thought by researchers as an access to knowledge; but it is mostly insipid videos that are loaded (nearly one hundred hours per minute on the web. The internet has opened up the sharing of information; and there is an abundance of fakenews, denunciation and harassment. With his iPhone, Steve Jobs has dreamed of a democratisation of practices; and this is turning into the worst addictions among young people". One thinks of Hikikomoris who, by the thousands not only in Japan but in Europe, hide in their rooms for months, even years...

READ UP'. Tim Berners-Lee: "30 years after its invention, the web has been hijacked by trolls and crooks."

It seems that innovations are flooding into unprepared populations. And they are experienced as constraints, as frameworks that must be complied with. "We need to be clear about the role we want technology to play, insists Michel Baudouin-Lafon. The computer can be a tool, a partner or a media: it is not the man that must be put in the loop, it is the machine that must enter into the human and social logic". The researcher shows how we allow projects to drift to the point of placing man as a slave to the automated universe. When Amazon Reveals Obligation to Provide Protective Vests to its Employees operating in its depots to avoid collisions with robots, we can measure the reversal of roles that takes place... Yet we can conceive of automata differently. Michel Baudouin-Lafon points out applications adapted to human practices:  Skinput takes the human body as an interactive surface, Holodesk allows interaction with virtual objects, or RoomAlive superimposes a playground on the family living room...
 
Frédéric Charon, Faurecia, describes how the successive delegation functions in our vehicles have become invisible today. "We are now entrusting our transport to robots. But do we really want to totally lose control by removing the steering wheels? What is the contract given to the automatons? Will it respect the laws of robotics laid down by Isaac Asimov? And who really wants autonomous cars? Isn't it those who want to recuperate available brain time? »
 

Can we compete with human intelligence at 20 watts?

The artificial intelligence crack Rand Hindi also fears that we will become slaves to the billions of connected objects that are flooding the planet: smartphones, but also watches, cars, clothes, refrigerators, scales and blood pressure monitors. "We're going to be harassed by objects constantly asking us for validation or sending us information... The next few years are going to be the worst in history for quality of life." he said in 2015 at the World Festival.
Four years later he reapplied: "The worst thing on the internet today is the connected speakers (like Alexa from Amazon, Google Home or HomePod from Apple) that retrieve all your data. His lucidity is to take the balance of things Emotional intelligence, which allows us to solve paradoxes, is just not accessible to machines. Because three things are needed: a body to feel, a sense of the collective and its right insertion and finally an energetic autonomy. Remember that a brain only consumes twenty watts as opposed to ten megawatts to run a machine. If we want to solve all these problems, the best thing to do is to make...a kid! »
 
There is therefore a real "technological bluff" according to Laurence Devillers, who has taken up Jacques Ellul's formula. Laurence Devillers, a project manager at the DATAIA multidisciplinary convergence institute in Paris-Saclay, sees the reduction in representations that is taking place with the colonisation of our faculties by algorithms.. " Emotional computing tries to arrange our emotions into six references (those of Paul Eckman), but it's a caricature, it erases complex intermediate states. If we don't put safeguards in place, we'll do anything. » she warns. And to advocate the creation of an AI Ethics Agency, such as exists abroad, to better identify the vulnerability of AI and its explicability. The example of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is instructive: it is possible to subject access to markets to virtuous behaviours .
 

Digital to reconnect with the world and nature?

A defensive posture to protect the population from the digital invasion is therefore being established. All the more so as everyone perceives the mercenary mores on which the GAFA have based their fortunes. It seems that digital technologies have not in any way revised their roadmap: it is still and always a question of pushing performance in an unequivocal manner. Yet the Internet is the world's third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, and the raw materials of electronics are fuelling geopolitical tensions .
 
The question that emerges is indeed to revise the objectives according to the current social challenges that push towards collective projects, services for well-being, a concern for the common world at a time of vital threats. A a group of French Internet players proposed, last January, to launch a 'RESET' movement "for a digital world that is fairer, more emancipatory, more attentive to freedoms and more concerned about ecological issues".
 
In this new context, Daphné Bavelier, who studies human learning and co-evolution with machines, considers that "we now need to work on 'social augmentation', to think about human augmentation on a collective level, by looking at favourable conditions. Here we find the attention to the living environment shown by the anthropologist Laurens Vadelli. "We must take the measure of the diversity of sensory worlds, as biologist Jakob Van Uexküll has done." he insists.
This outstanding observer of the turn of the XXe century has found that every living species has its own reality that depends on its sensors. For example, the tick he studied in particular, has just three sensors that allow it to feed on warm blood. Similarly, snakes see in the infrared, the bee in the ultra-violet and the bat picks up ultrasound. "Perception only makes sense when it's shared...says the researcher and body-hacker who tested magnetic implants on him. We can perhaps imagine increasing our sensitivity to nature, but conversely, freeing ourselves from it would cut us off from any human community. ".
 
Our confrontation with planetary limits forces us to revisit our technological imaginations. Let's remember: "Faced with the digital gods, the question we have to ask ourselves is: "To what extent do we want to be cut off from the world?" insists American author Nicholas G. Carr.
For Mathieu Baudin, founder of the Institute of Desirable Futures, "it's absurd to keep detaching ourselves from nature. Survival is not going to be possible by placing ourselves above ground". He pleads for a connection between Elon Musk and ...Pierre Rabhi.
In the same vein, Alexandre Cadain, who founded Anima.aiThe company is working to deconstruct the myth of technological singularity, which he knows well from having worked on Hyperloop in California for ten years. "The future belongs to cultural plurality, to the diversity of narratives". This science and art enthusiast is a rapporteur for the UN's AI for Good commission and co-leads the Postdigital seminar at the École normale supérieure. He notes the extent to which the utopias of Silicon Valley can be dystopias seen from Europe. "For example, Elon Musk's Neuralink project - to connect brains to machines - suggests the torture to come. To me it sounds like the hypermagnesic child who can no longer live, described by Borges in Fictions. »
These fears are also clearly expressed by Eric Sadin... who sees automated modes of organization as a way to drive out conflict, deliberation and consultation. These are all principles that condition political and democratic life...
 

E-governments that "hold" or "condition" their people

Yet permanent connectivity is becoming a hell in China, as described by Jago Campos, director of Aletheia Studios. Surveillance and facial recognition systems - with 200 million cameras installed - allow for the organization of social credits subject to compliant behaviour.

READ UP'. China is moving into a world that even Orwell would not have dared to imagine...

E-government also concerns the United States with the development of incentive or packaging practices (nudge) and the reference to behavioural economics, hailed by the award of the Nobel Prize in Economics to Richard Thaler. This theorist of "benevolent manipulation" developed with the jurist Cass Sustein the "libertarian paternalism". The idea is to limit the choices by organizing the questioning of populations to put forward certain decisions (more civic, more compliant ...).
 
At the international level, the risks of a stranglehold on democratic elections have now been demonstrated. We know how Robert Mercer, owner of Cambridge Analytica, intervened with Steve Bannon to get Trump elected across the Atlantic and to bring Brexit to Great Britain. Their teams are currently present in Italy...
 
Does Europe have what it takes? Does it have the tools and frameworks to generate the technical strategies best suited to human beings? The need for a Franco-German alliance to have the means for strong technical alternatives is often mentioned. This is the spirit in which André Loesekrug-Pietri came to present JEDI, a European counter-offensive to Chinese and American imperialism, launched in August 2017. The former adviser to the Minister of the Armed Forces, Sylvie Goulard, defends the Joint European Disruptive Initiative to address four priority issues: climate emergency, health, digital transition, space and oceans.
Eighty major groups and research organisations (Thales, Naval Group, CEA, CNES, ANSSI, DLR...) support this Franco-German agency with Darpa, the Pentagon's advanced research agency, as a model. The aim is to finance subjects with a long-term orientation or which are too risky for the private sector to get involved (the famous moonshots). It is financed by the States or regions. For the time being, two French regions have joined a project targeting glyphosate replacement. Some thirty other challenges have been identified, such as the development of a less energy-intensive blockchain, the creation of quantum links with satellites, which would make them more competitive with 5G for example, or the recovery of space debris in low orbit, an essential issue for the continued exploitation of space.
 
The prospects are right if they manage to weave the frameworks of an original European renaissance, inscribed in a reconnection with territories, in a consideration of biospheric limits. "The Renaissance in Europe saw Leonardo da Vinci and St. Barthelemy's Day side by side", underlines Mathieu Baudin. But from now on, the technical trajectory must be biocompatible. Irony of synchronies: the exhibition The factory of the living, offered to the discovery of Dystopia participants, renews all possibilities in listening to beings. Between biotechniques, cell cultures, odorous growths... the living world has a few tricks up its sleeve to reenchant the machines...
 
Dorothy Browaeys, Guest columnist UP' Magazine, President of TEK4life
 
To go further
 
The digital apocalypse will not happen. by Guy Mamou-Mani - Editions de l'Observatoire, December 2018
Waiting for the robots of Antonio A. Casilli - Editions du Seuil / Collection La couleur des idées, January 2019
 

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