It is a market with an exponential growth where innovations seem endless.

 

This article is a translation from an op-ed published in Les Echos on January, 7th 2015 : http://bit.ly/1IoIvN7

 

With the Internet, $1,000 billion is pocket money. At Las Vegas CES, the French delegation is impressive: 66 start-ups, i.e the first European contingent and the fifth globally (after the US, China, Taiwan and South Korea). People get excited for an exponentially growing market, where innovations seem limitless and come up at an astounding rate. General Electric estimates that the Internet industry should generate 10 to15 trillion dollars worth of economic value by 20 years. For Cisco, “the Internet of things” will create $19 trillion by 2020. As an ex-financial analyst, I would say “the underlying of this growth is pretty solid”. I am not talking about human beings, who struggle – figure of speech – to reproduce at a meagre rate of 1.2% each year. I am talking about the connected devices: there already are about 5 billion of them; there will be 25 billion by 2020 – according to Gartner. 

The future is bright. For those who possess and deploy these technologies, the potential earnings are as high as the disruption.

Sooner or later, even City bankers (expected average bonuses of £125,000, up 21%) or private equity employees (expected average bonuses of £145,000) will look like proletarians compared to tech entrepreneurs and employees. Who would mind? 

Perhaps each person whose job – whether simple or complex – is eventually going to be replaced by these very technologies. So it sounds like a lot of people.

Here is the paradox of 21st-century economics: it needs human and financial capital to take off; but it seems to be able – even willing – to emancipate from this capital very fast. Nearly half of US employment is at risk of computerization, an Oxford study showed – that is 65 million jobs. Applied to the French market, this ratio means that 12 million jobs are at risk. On the European scale, it is 105 million. 

Optimists sweep aside such threats, recalling that technological and industrial revolutions (electricity, printing, railroads…) necessarily go with Schumpeterian job destructions before these revolutions create new needs and services. 

That is true. Yet this time two new elements are part of the equation: the pace of job destructions; and the substitution of human intelligence by artificial intelligence. The pace: human beings get used to everything – if they are given time. Now, how much time do we have against the computing – and thinking – power of tens of billions of connected devices? 

The interview given by Stephen Hawking to the BBC last month is to be taken very seriously. This brilliant scientist – who fully benefits from artificial intelligence (a connected machine allows him to express his thoughts, which would be otherwise immured in his body) – points out the threat of a rapid extinction of the human race. Because of this very artificial intelligence that “would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate [that] humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded”.

But who cares? In Wall Street, the City, the CES, the Silicon Valley, who cares?

But who cares? In Wall Street, the City, the CES, the Silicon Valley, who cares? Or in a Beijing lab, where scientists sequence the genome of 2000 gifted people to instill it to humans or machines in the name of competitiveness? Smug technophiles, or those who think they – or their electronic (i.e virtual) bank accounts – have enough resources to neutralize this threat and turn it into a business opportunity, will brush aside these issues with their mouse – or, later, with the blink of an eye (Google already has the patent to integrate Google glass into the human body).

The others will pay attention to the work and initiatives that emerge from these subjects. They emerge in surprising places, very far from the labs, hubs, and technological and financial poles that vowed to dominate the world. These places – from Buenos Aires to Manila, from Helsinki to Johannesburg, from Madras to Mexico – are temples, churches, spiritual centers, from all horizons and all denominations, gathering believers and non-believers. These are places where human beings are considered differently from the dominant religion – the one that combines worship of short term profit and submission to the machine, and that some Silicon Valley prophets call “transhumanism”. If there is a risk for religious wars in the 21st century, it lies in this confrontation: between those who want to reduce human beings to an algorithm in order to replace them and capitalize on them for their own profit; and those who will always choose to support human beings, as weak, limited, handicapped and outside the norm as they can be – just like Stephen Hawking. But precisely, these humans are endowed with an irreducible conscience, which would hopefully triumph, in fine.

Last November, the Vatican diplomacy expressed the possibility of Pope Francis visiting the UN General Assembly in September 2015. Right next to this meeting of States – who are often overwhelmed by the ongoing digital revolution – lies the epitome of this new, globalized and over-financialized economy: Wall Street. Is there a better place to start over? Is there a better place to put human beings back at the center of our economies – not on the periphery? Here is a foreseeable wish for the New Year, not an empty one.