Tag Archives: Policy

Politics vs. Economics: A country is not a Start-up

I publish more and more posts about politics, society and start-ups. I recently had one about sexism in Silicon Valley and the motivation for this one is a French blogger who critized French president, Emmanuel Macron, for his saying that France should become a startup nation. The author, Mehdi Medjaoui, reacted by writing Non, la France ne doit pas devenir une start-up (No, France must not become a start-up).

This is a very interesting article in French, so I put most of the content in Google Translate and though I did my best to correct this (decently good) tool, I am not sure what follows is easily readable. But the main messages should be possible to follow. It is worth the read. the author knows very well start-ups and Silicon Valley and he does not have (I think) really much against them, btu I agree with him, their unique model and dynaics cannot and should be copied by states, and indeed only by a tiny number of people or groups.

France is not a start-up, it already has its model

No, France is not a start-up, that is to say a temporary organization in search of a model of growth and income, as defined by Steve Blank, one of the pioneers to theorize the mentality start- Up in Silicon Valley. France is a multi-century nation, whose model of “freedom equality fraternity” is universal, universalist and resonant for eternity. She is no longer looking for a model. She has been in the execution of this model for 220 years.

No, France is not a start-up, owned by a small number of shareholders and unelected investment funds, authorized to make unilateral choices without counter-measures that are necessary for the whole group. France is a democratic, sovereign nation whose representatives are of the people, elected by the people, for the people and seeking the separation and balance of power in the interests of all these citizens.

France should not think like a start-up, it must put innovation at the service of progress

No, France should not think “make something people want”, as would say Paul Graham, the founder of the best-known start-up accelerator that is YCombinator. France is a Republic (res-publica, the public thing) which thinks the general interest over particular interests. We would still have the death penalty if we were content to accomplish only the things people wanted. France must think “make what the people want”. The people as a whole. Not a part of the people.

No France should not adopt the strategy of blitzscaling thought by Reid Hoffman – founder of LinkedIn and investor – that is to say to invest resources with very great loss, on a very risky profile, betting on the debt to take Dominant market positions. France must manage its public finances in good faith because it is fundamentally the money of the citizens, and it must invest in infrastructure for the future, less risky and less profitable in the short term. It is not for the French State to take risks, it is for entrepreneurs, who will be rewarded for this. Because yes, thinking like a start-up is thinking of extreme growth, at any price, in a leak forward that leads to failure in 90% of cases. But unlike a startup, if you miss, you cannot start France again.

No, France must not succumb to the dictatorship of innovation that prevails in Silicon Valley, which is beginning to innovate to innovate as long as there are people to invest in a bubble economy … As Peter Thiel would say in “Where is the Future”. “We wanted flying cars, we had networks of 140 characters instead.” France should not think and control itself like a game where one bursts of candy, or a social network of photos or micro-messaging.

“France, the 5th world power and nuclear power does not drive like CandyCrush, Tinder or Snapchat”

On the other hand, France must think Progress. With values from the Enlightenment, it must enlighten the world again by thinking about the future, and by putting innovation and start-ups at the service of this future, because “Innovation without conscience is only ruin of the soul”.

For example, France as a nation must think the future by its ethical scientific and industrial intellectuals, define qualitative and quantitative objectives for the future of humanity, encourage innovation in this direction, go out of the «spray and pray» which is to believe that we must water and support all innovations and pray to see those that will evolve in progress.

It can do this by piloting its public research towards these objectives, the steering of its policy of financing innovation through the Public Investment Bank and the Caisse des Depots et Consignations and an open policy of valorization by its Socities for the Accelerated Transfer of Technology (SATT). The state can also do so with the legal context of intellectual property to allow all entrepreneurs in the territory to have a free license on unused patents owned by the state.

It is perhaps even negotiating at the global level to renounce the patenting of living organisms or medicines for poorer countries, or clean energy, in a logic of progress for humanity against the logic of capital. Somewhat like Elon Musk did when he put Tesla’s patents in the public domain, or the YCombinator accelerator I mentioned earlier, which guarantees with its YCResearch research center that all the results from their Works will be in the public domain.

At the same time, France, unlike the start-up philosophy, has to direct the world to think about the crazy guards that innovation tries to circumvent pushed by its logic of short-term profit. For example, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and researchers in the OpenAI movement want to finance the balance of knowledge in the field of artificial intelligence to ensure that it does not drift and becomes our last invention. It is the role of an enlightened nation like France to think these things on a global level. Not to think like a start-up to accept any innovation whatever its impact on the world, on the sole pretext that it is innovation, without knowing in which direction to go. For as the Chinese proverb says, “There is good wind only to him who knows where he is going”.

No France should not yield like start-ups to the galactic datacracy which thinks that one can control everything with metrics of acquisition, activation, retention, income and recommendations, statistics and the Big data. Or even succumb to what Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, calls the Vanity Metrics, these indicators of success that are not. That we can all automate, in a virtuous martingale this creation of value and unlimited. No, the data is only a representation of reality because it always suffers from statistical and collection bias. As Jacky Fayolle, administrator of INSEE, puts it: “When indicators are used in a fetish fashion, disconnected from the information system from which they come, they deplete public action rather than enrich it, while Offering an easy but illusory assessment of the performance of these actions.”
Cathy O’Neil in her book Weapons of Maths Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy takes on the example of the subprime crisis Where she explains that “a formula can be perfectly innocuous in theory. But when it is used on a large scale and becomes a national or global standard, it creates its own distorted and dystopic economy.” Behind, these are not application features that no longer work, they are people expropriated and put On the street, the financial bankruptcies of people who had invested their retirement in the markets and who have nothing more … and public money by hundreds of billions of all the citizens who come to bail out the banks.

On the scale of a start-up looking for its model, it is easy to go back in the real to understand what is not working and to publish a new version of the software two days later. When one speaks of basing the whole society behind the data, one takes the risk of diluting its meaning, which creates a systemic risk of discrepancy between reality and its statistical or algorithmic representation on a scale where one does not Can stop the machine.

No France should not act as a start-up, it must guarantee the long term

No, France should not “Move fast and break things”, that is to say to innovate at the risk of breaking the existing, as Mark Zuckerberg said in the first ten years of Facebook. France must guarantee national cohesion, guaranteeing progress for all, in the long term and without breaking the gains of social progress, its culture and its living together which are a legacy of the common French. Moreover once a critical size reached for Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg changed this principle to “Move fast with stable infrastructure”. This is closer to a sound strategy of rapid development by respecting the stability of what has already been built before, and which endorses the fact that Facebook was no longer a start-up. As France, too, must not think as such, it must also maintain the stability of its infrastructures, as quickly as it moves.

No, France does not have to “Fuck it, ship it”, an ideology that promotes the release of products not yet finished, to confront them with reality and learn from their impact on customers and the market. As Reid Hoffman (again) says, “If you’re not ashamed of your product when you take it out, it’s because you took too long to get it out and you’d have to get it out a lot sooner”.
France must think about reforms and laws in a spirit of respect for institutions, debate and consultation in the constitutional requirement and not produce laws or any other reform or infrastructure, without thinking about equality of rights. When you manage 67 million people in such an advanced way in your life, you cannot produce laws, utilities, infrastructure without thinking for all in the long run. You cannot do it without planning them on qualitative and quantitative goals of progress, egalitarian and ecological, just to get them out and see what it gives and then iterate. In other words: motorways or nuclear power plants are not built in “Fuck it ship it” mode.

No, France should not “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission”. The acts of the French state bind him before history. This can be seen, for example, in Germany, which still has no right to hold nuclear weapons or Japan which cannot devote more than 1% of its GDP to its army in retaliation for their actions during the second world War. It can also be seen with the consequences of colonization which remain open wounds in a large part of the population and a French dishonor in the History of the world. A start-up can make moral mistakes, play with the limits of the law like Uber and Airbnb to move the lines, but a state has many other responsibilities of another kind before international law and the course of the story. No France ought not to engage the nation for the future without thinking of the consequences.

France does not have to fail fast, fail often, but France is a nation state whose model has no right to break, in a country with 9 million poor people, 4 million poorly housed. Moreover, France cannot economically go bankrupt. The economic defeat, it ends in the end by “hyperinflation or war” as Karl Marx would say. Hyperinflation if we try to pay off the debts that have become un-repayable, the war with its creditors if we do not want to pay them back and they come to force it back.
And then we cannot start France again with another team and other investors. There is but one people of France, and one territory of France.

No France should not like a start-up segment its offers according to the citizens in a cleaving relationship, for citizens who can afford to subscribe and others not. On the contrary, it must treat the whole territory and all its citizens in an inclusive, “equal with equals, unequal with unequal” way, to compensate for differences of fact or nature, not to accentuate them.

No France should not invest everything solely on technological solutionism, which advocates that everything can be solved with an application, as Evgeny Morozov explains in his book “To save everything click here” or Jaron Lanier in his book “Who owns The Future.” Things are more complex than that when you run a nation. France must think, like Barack Obama in front of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, that “Democracy is by definition disordered and that if all I had to do was produce a widget (web or mobile application) without worrying about Whether the poorest can access it or worry about possible collateral damage, then the recommendations of the Silicon Valley bosses would be great.”

No, France should not create temporal monopolies, as Peter Thiel would say in his book Zero to One, in order to create more margin than its competitors (especially Europeans) in order to continue investing to maintain this monopoly. France needs to think of economic collaboration with its European partners, to rebuild a political Europe that goes beyond the doctrine of free and undistorted competition that puts countries in tax and social competition. France must establish itself in Europe in a logic of cooperation, as we have seen with the industrial successes of Airbus and Ariane Espace. There remain the economics of the sea, the digital and so many other areas on which to cooperate at the European level with our partners, not our competitors.

France must be an infrastructure, think and act as an infrastructure

Instead of being a start-up and thinking like a start-up, France must become an entrepreneurial state. In this context, its role is a regulator, an insurer of last resort and an arbitrator who ensures the freedom to undertake, reduces the opportunity cost and the cost of access to the market to its minimum for entrepreneurs , Helps finance innovation, supports basic research, while protecting its strategic industries. Its role is to ensure neutrality, equity, transparency and stability in the marketplace to create a climate of sound confidence and enable entrepreneurs to innovate. In this respect, it is concretely to create an infrastructure favorable to the creation of value, with maximum positive externalities to allow the emergence of a fertile ecosystem to the taking of risk. But it is not France that must take risks! Entrepreneurs will be more agile to identify market needs and build experiences that customers expect. The State is involved in investing in infrastructure over the long term and pooling them for all, with access costs tending to zero with the number, allowing the opportunity cost to the entrepreneurial Real equality of opportunity.
So it is not to think like a start-up but to think like an infrastructure that allows the emergence of startups, guaranteeing as a state the counterpart of the legislative framework in the direction of Progress over the long term for the society.

A State is the opposite of “move fast and break things”, but rather “move forward and do not break”

“We can not stop progress” or the dictatorship of innovation

“In the speech of Emmanuel Macron at Vivatech, the word innovation is pronounced 25 times, the word progress does not appear.”

As Etienne Klein has often said in his lectures, “50 years ago, for every innovation that brought society forward, it was said, We do not stop progress”. There was a benevolent vision of innovation where it was said that technology came to free men and women from their condition. In a society where innovation is king, this expression takes a whole different turn. “One does not stop progress” is today the expression of a dictatorship of innovation. Technology is seen as a bulimic monster that will come to threaten our future, take jobs, consume more resources, with no safeguards. It is the theories of the Singularity University in Mountain View, where it is believed that technology will replace the man in a “forced march” and make it obsolete.

Is this really our plan for the future?

“The idea of progress was a doubly consoling idea. In the first place, because by sustaining the hope of a future improvement of our living conditions, by making a more desirable world a long way off, it made history humanly bearable. Second, because it gave meaning to the sacrifices it imposed. In the name of a certain idea of the future, mankind was called upon to work for a progress which the individual would not necessarily Experience, but whose descendants could benefit. ”
In short, to believe in progress was to accept the sacrifice of the personal present in the name of a certain credible and desirable idea of the collective future. But for such a sacrifice to have any meaning, a symbolic attachment to the world and its future was required. Is it because such a connection is lacking today that the word progress is disappearing or curling up behind the single concept of innovation, now on the agenda of all research policies? ”

The idea of progress is the opposite of the start-up philosophy that runs in the short term, in a forward flight dictated by the dogma of innovation at all costs in the name of the market, without putting it in context Desire for the future. Not every innovation that meets a market is progress. Some examples? Allowing to share photos that fade on a social network is not a progress for humanity. Paying to choose the genetic characteristics of one’s children, is not a progress for humanity. Transplanting the blood of young adults to try to get younger rich businessmen to rejuvenate is not a progress. Allowing to meet men and women on a simple thumb on her phone is not a progress for humanity. It’s up to you to judge for yourself.

For all these reasons, France should not become a start-up, nor should it think and act as a start-up. France is a nation, a state, a people, a history, a culture that has to extricate itself from the permanent pivot, for it is capable of thinking the future in the name of a desirable idea for which its people are ready to sacrifice. These reversals of strategy startups who do not know where they go and what their model are the opposite. The French model is established “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and it has an eternal vocation, for France is not and will never be an enterprise, it is a Republic.

Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril

As I am a big fan of both Piketty and Harari in addition to being a start-up fan, I was attracted by this article from the Stanford Magazine: This is Not Your Parents’ Economy – Inequality is putting the American Dream in peril. Here is the most striking message:

According to the “Fading American Dream” paper, 92 percent of people born in 1940 earned more in income at age 30 than their parents did at age 30. Only 50 percent of those born in 1984 did.
[…]
In trying to explain why mobility has fallen so precipitously, Chetty, Grusky and their team considered two “counterfactual” scenarios for those born in the 1980s. The first assumes higher GDP growth, equivalent to that experienced by those born in 1940 but distributed as it has been recently. The second uses the real GDP growth for the 1980s cohort but assumes a “more broadly shared” distribution. As the paper explains, “the first scenario expands the size of the economic pie, dividing it in the proportions by which it is divided today. The second keeps the size of the pie fixed, but divides it more evenly as in the past.”
[…]
The higher GDP growth scenario did increase mobility — to 62 percent from 50 percent. But the more broadly shared growth scenario did even better, increasing mobility to 80 percent. To achieve that higher level of mobility using GDP alone would require growth of 6.4 percent per year. (Recent years have seen growth under 3 percent in the United States.)
[…]
“We were able to say, if you care about upward mobility, aggregate growth wouldn’t be enough to restore it; instead, growth needs to be more equitably distributed.”

The Nobel Prize for Thomas Piketty?

I have already said here how much I liked Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (see Has the world gone crazy? Maybe…). In finally ending my reading of the French edition of this 970-page book, I could not help thinking that the author would soon have the Nobel Prize in Economics, even though I have no competence to judge.

capital_in_the_twenty-first_century_front_cover

When reading his conclusion, I found in the author’s words one of the reasons for my respect regarding this work: “Let us repeat it: the sources gathered in this book are more extensive than those of the previous authors, but they are imperfect and incomplete. All the conclusions I have reached are inherently fragile and deserve to be challenged and debated. Research in social science is not intended to produce ready-made mathematical certainties and to substitute for public, democratic and contradictory debate” [Page 941].

He adds further on: “I see no other place for the economy but as a sub-discipline of the social sciences. […] I do not much like the expression “economic science”, which seems to me to be terribly arrogant and which could lead one to believe that the economy would have reached a higher scientific specificity, distinct from other social sciences. […] One can, for example, spend a great deal of time demonstrating the indisputable existence of a pure and true causality, by forgetting in passing that the question treated is sometimes of limited interest.” [Page 945-7].

Piketty also summarizes his work in a few lines [Page 942]:

“The general lesson of my inquiry is that the dynamic evolution of a market economy and of private property, left to itself, contains within it important convergent forces, linked in particular to the dissemination of knowledge and qualifications, but also powerful forces of divergence, potentially threatening for our democratic societies and the values ​​of social justice on which they are based.

The main destabilizing force is related to the fact that the private rate of return on capital r can be strongly and permanently higher than the growth rate of income and output. The inequality r > g implies that the heritages of the past recapitalize faster than the rate of increase of production and wages. […] The entrepreneur tends inevitably to become an annuitant. […] The past devours the future.”

And the solution is clear: “The right solution is the progressive annual tax on capital. […] The difficulty is that this solution requires a very high degree of international cooperation and regional political integration” [Pages 943-44].

All is said.

I can not help ending this brief article by recalling a striking example among the multitude of data analyzed:

t12

Has the world gone crazy? Maybe…

I wanted to write this article the day after July 14 and the tragic events in Nice. But it took me a little longer. Start-ups, Innovation are above all a passion for me, a topic that fascinates me. I see many reasons for optimism and hope for humankind and for the planet as a whole. But for any positive pole, there is a negative one. And any optimistic analysis of a complex topic always induces its pessimistic viewpoints. The point is not to provide a “simplistic” opposition to innovation and entrepreneurial creativity, but to mention here some works which demonstrate, by their depth, the complexity of the subject.

The simplest, and probably the least interesting of the three controversial analyses I will present here comes from the United States. Two MIT researchers, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, explain the risk of automation that are created by science and information and communication technologies (ICT). In Race Against The Machine followed by The Second Machine Age, they show that many jobs will necessarily disappear with the development of ICT. All technological advances have created such risks (printing, the steam engine, electricity) but it seems that ICT is of much higher dimension, with the “fantasy” of transhumanism, which suggests that humans could be totally replaced by the machine.

Brynjolfsson-McAfee

The book is an excellent introduction to the challenges the world will meet and let me quote. The chapter Beyond GDP begins with a quote of Robert Kennedy: “The Gross National Product does not include the beauty of our poetry or the intelligence of our public debate. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” I know that these books were best-sellers in the US, probably because they ask interesting questions. But I must say that I found the analysis a little light with nor facts and figures compared to the two books that I will write about now.

Piketty-Stiegler

Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty is one of the most impressive books I have ever read. I will not give my summary here, and I encourage you to read the wikipedia page or slides from its website, if you do not have the courage to read some 900 pages! But again this is an absolutely remarkable book which the following 4 figures will further encourage you in trying…

Piketty-tables-en

Piketty shows that capitalism has reached its limits probably due to unregulated globalization but more importantly because the growth of the planet will probably not be anymore what it was during the post-war boom. Piketty is quite close to the theses of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, but he seems to me much more convincing about the causes, effects and remedies. Bernard Stiegler wrote a strange book, In the disruption – How not to go crazy? (In French only so far, but many of his books have been translated) This is a very difficult book to read, closer to philosophy and psychology, but behind the difficulty, what a fascinating analysis, rich and also taking into account the complexity of the world. If you fear the demanding reading, you can listen Stiegler (in French only )in a series of 15 one-hour epiosed produced by Radio Suisse Romande in June 2016: see the web site of Histoire Vivante that is devoted to the work of Ars Industrialis. The main thesis of Stiegler is that capitalism has gone crazy and that the absence of regulation can lead you to madness. The “disruption” can be good when it is followed by a stabilization phase. And as serious as the economic analysis of Piketty, Stiegler undoubtedly explains why people become crazy to the point of causing events like in Nice.

HistoireVivante-ArsIndustrialis

Emerging Science and Technologies, why so many promises? (Part 4)

This is my final post about what I have learned from Sciences et technologies émergentes, pourquoi tant de promesses? (For the record here are the links to part 1, part 2 and part 3).

1316845933

The last chapters of this excellent book try to explore ways to solve the problem of excessive promises that have become a system. In Chapter IV.2, it is question of “désorcèlement” (the closest term I found would be “disenchanted”); I read it as a critical analysis of the vocabulary used by those who promise. The chapter speaks at length of the transhumanist movement, the promise of promises! “[…] Describe how these actors certainly produce, but especially divert away, reconfigure and amplify these promises […] in front of passive and naive consumers.” [Page 261] and later “[but] transhumanists are first activists, mostly neither engineers nor practitioners […] attempting answers to questions not asked or badly expressed, […] hence a really caricatural corpus,” to the point of talking about a “cult” (quoting Jean-Pierre Dupuy), “a muddled, often questionable thinking.” [Page 262]

In Chapter IV.3, the authors explore unconventional approaches, a possible sign of disarray to “scientifically” react to the promises. For example, they have contributed to the creation of a comic book to answer another comic which wanted to popularize and promote synthetic biology.

Adventures_Synthetic_Biology

The final chapter explores scenarios that may follow the explosion of promises, like the idea of ​​increasing the number of Nobel Prize. New promises?!! More concretely, the author shows that the initial promises are not followed in practice: “The wait & see phenomenon in investment, or lack of innovation, is less known, though widespread: the effect of general and diffuse promises maintains the interest of players but too much uncertainty holds back investment in cycles of concrete promises-requirements.” [Page 297] “A game is at work which continues as long as the players follow the rules, […] they are prisoners of the game. […] They may also leave it if the right circumstances occur and then the game collapses.” [Page 298]

In conclusion, beyond a very rich description of many examples of scientific and technical promises, the authors have shown how a system of promises was built through interactions between the various stakeholders (the researchers themselves, the (political, social and economic) decision makers who fund them, and the general public which hopes and feels anxiety). The relationship to time, not only the future but also the present and the past, is beautifully described, in addition to a desire for eternity. And finally, we mostly discover that the promises have led to numerous debates that were perhaps, if not entirely, useless, as we could have known that the promises can not be kept, even from the moment they were created…

Art as an Answer to the Tragedy of Life

This blog is about Start-ups. But from time to time, I take the freedom of touching other topics. Often about Art. It will be again the case here. And also when tragic events occur. Last Friday, Paris was stricken again. And I do not have any answer but to say I believe in Peace and Love, not in war and hate. My brother sent me two beautiful pictures he took in Paris recently. They mean a lot.

WP_20151115_15_29_30_Pro

WP_20151114_16_30_20_Pro

My friend Dominique sent me a quote from René Girard in “Achever Clausewitz”, 2007, Champs Gallimard, pages 57/58« Ces échecs de résolution [de conflit] sont fréquents quand deux groupes « montent aux extrêmes » : nous l’avons vu dans le drame yougoslave, nous l’avons vu au Rwanda. Nous avons beaucoup à craindre aujourd’hui de l’affrontement des chiites et des sunnites en Irak et au Liban. La pendaison de Saddam Hussein ne pouvait que l’accélérer. Bush est, de ce point de vue, la caricature même de ce qui manque à l’homme politique, incapable de penser de façon apocalyptique. Il n’a réussi qu’une chose : rompre une coexistence maintenue tant bien que mal entre ces frères ennemis de toujours. Le pire est maintenant probable au Proche Orient, où les chiites et les sunnites montent aux extrêmes. Cette escalade peut tout aussi bien avoir lieu entre les pays arabes et le monde occidental. Elle a déjà commencé : ce va et vient des attentats et des « interventions » américaines ne peut que s’accélérer, chacun répondant à l’autre. Et la violence continuera sa route. L’affrontement sino-américain suivra…. » which translates as follows:

Girard-Clausewitz

So my reaction goes elsewhere. I recieved emails on Friday night and Saturday from the Space Invader community checking that everyone was all right. People who love street art go out to find the works and take pictures. Indeed Invader was in the same mood last January. He is now invading New York City, with a fifth wave. By following him with a work in progress, I see art as an answer to the tragedy of life.

SI est charlie

Here is my own work in progress:

as well as my map (if I gave you access – Invader asks people not to give inidcations to people who destroy his work).

On France Culture, Transhumanism is Science Fiction

Occasionally, I write a short post that has nothing to do with the start-up. Well maybe it has… I was listening this morning France Culture which invited the philosopher André Comte-Sponville. At time 8:13 of the video below starts a sequence about transhumanism that the philosopher then comments. I also put it in writing below. I already had the opportunity to discuss the topic thanks to another edition of the same excellent program, on May 9, 2014: Ray Kurzweil has mostly wrong predictions.


Les Matins / Philosopher contre les fanatismes par franceculture

To the question “André Comte-Sponville, will you take the bus to immortality”, he answers:
“No thanks! This is obviously excluded. Well more seriously some people predict, I think of Laurent Alexandre, that we will soon live 1’000 years. And his book is called The Death of Death. This is obviously a nonsense. Because, whether you die in 90 years or a thousand years, you would still die. We would live more but we would still die. As for the crazy idea, I would say, of suppressing death, again, it is an impossibility. No body, no living body can resist combustion, can resist drowning. If you spend 15 days under water, I swear that transhumanism or not, you’re dead. No human being survives a bullet in the forehead. In other words, even it happened, and God knows tomorrow is not the day, it is science fiction, but even if it happened that we win over every disease and aging, in other words we would only die by accident, well, sooner or later, because with infinite time, everything possible necessarily happens, we would have an accident and we would end up dying anyway. Simply, what would happen, as we would only die by accident, we would indeed perpetually be scared to death. What allows me to take my car today is that I know anyway that I will die and therefore dying of cancer or of a car accident, basically the difference is not essential. If I can die only by accident or murder, I’ll be perpetually scared to death. In short it will make a society of old human beings who will not have children as it would be terrible overcrowding, a society of old and coward human beings. Well that is not my ideal of a civilization or of humanity.
– So, does transhumanism scare you?
– No, again this is science fiction. That science and technology are becoming more and more present in our lives, that they may one day change human nature, that’s true. It is not there yet, but it can come and so it is legitimate to think about it. I want to say that urgent problems are elsewhere. We will be nine billion and a half, maybe ten billion in 2050, nobody knows how we will feed ten billion people. The issue of freshwater and arable land, the issue of global warming are far more pressing issues that the issue of transhumanism.

MesLivres-Cynthia-Fleury

I change (slightly) the topic again. Here are books of another French philosopher whose clarity of thought and vision are exceptional. A must read. The world of start-up also needs courage, ethics and moral philosophy. Cynthia Fleury explains beautifully why any individual and any aociety also needs them… The lies of transhumanism and of societies and of individuals too must be fought!

What has Silicon Valley to do with Capitalism?

(this is a quick and dirty translation of a French post as it is linked to a French radio broadcast – sorry for the bad english if any)

I was a guest yesterday of French radio Culturesmonde France Culture in a series about capitalsim entitled Des capitalismes (1/4) – Silicon valley: l’émancipation par l’argent. I had to give my views abotu SV and capitalism. Is it unique or extreme? Does the area care, does it have an ideology or is it indifferent to capitalism?

FranceCultureMondes-SiliconValley

The topic is rich and complex because with 7 million people, opinions in SV are also diverse and were built over 50 years. Each decade brough a new generation of entrepreneurs and investors. You can listen to the broadcast (in French) who also involved Yann Moulier-Boutang, who talked about « cognitive capitalism » and Sébastien Caré, a spécialist of libertarian thinking.

A big thank you to Clémence Allezard who prepared the series, pushing me to think about the region in a manner I was not used to. 🙂 So I thought about it as follows. Is SV an extreme form or a unique form of capitalism? or as I have a tendency to think a region quite indifferent to capitalism? On the one hand you have large powerful firms who do not really pay taxes, you have a fast Schumpterian creative destruction, the government is not active as it is in Europe (health, schools, transportation) so that firms (at the anecdote level or not?) do the work (Google buses, Apple And FB recent initiative about freezing women eggs, Peter Thile encouraging school dropouts) and even induce the SF authorities in changing housing laws. One the other hand, it is not just extreme, it is unique, SV created venture capital, systematized stock options, and has active co-opetition. Richard Newton was saying SV is the firm and all the companies are its divisions. People move from one to the other easily with market dynamics.

Finally, it is the “revenge of the nerds”. They are problem solvers, and do not care about society (hence the libertarians) and even about capitalism (making money is a by-product and if an objective, far from being the only one). I read a great New Yorker article where George Packer explains that these nerds hate the friction created by negotiation and compromises politics and society necessarily induce. So they avoid it as long as they can. And do more when they feel limited by the government but are quite neutral about it. They are selfish. But i doubt “changing the world to make it a better place” is totally convincing at the same time. It is more selfish than generous. These people are mild versions of Asperger and are obsessed by solving their problems. If it solves others’, good, not critical. (Of course SV is 7 million people and is a diverse region, I am focusing on what is visible). I was saying to the journalist when we prepared the talk, that I see more indifference than real strategy, I see some lobbying in SF or Washington, but rather limited compared to general lobbying in the USA.

Another way to summarize is: is there a particular ideology of capitalism in Silicon Valley? I would say that rather than a strategy, there has been a practice that was put in place over decades, by iteration, by trial and error. Ultimately, Silicon Valley is the meeting of ideas (entrepreneurs, and academics sometimes) and money (investors). But unlike the rest of the world where investors are bankers who lend money, in SV they are often former entrepreneurs who “give” money (in the sense that they take the risk of not finding it back), in fact they take shares in the company (often around 50%). They literally invented venture capital, which has found its final form in the 80’s. In addition, the “stock options” decried in Europe are recognized in the SV as a motivation. Secretaries at Apple or Microsoft did sometimes become millionaires, something unthinkable at home in Europe. I have also said, there is an optimism that encourages risk-taking. Moreover, there is no real risk because the skill allows you to find a new job quickly. The risk lies in the possible error in the choice of the project and nobody is ever ruined normally, except one’s health. And as the model works, it is enriched in new areas beyond which the electronics is the root, through the electric car (Tesla Motors), aeronautics (SpaceX) and even the food 2.0 movement (for synthetic food). And the last frontier, aging, death, trans-humanism … which seems to me personally crazy, but …

As a post-scriptum, some comments I got… very interesting! i think SV is more diverse these days. there are the really old school types, like intel, cisco, even apple. then there are places like google and Facebook, that actually do something valuable. and then there are the startups with a hand full of 20 year olds that do not much, but have valuations measured in billions. i think the question should be answered differently for the different groups. and it’s important to not lump cisco in with, say, whatsapp or snapchat.

i’d say for many of them, it’s indifferent to mildly positive feeling abotu politics, as you say. for some (many of the VCs) it’s definitely capitalism on steroids. (or at least, they like to think of themselves that way; they blabber all the time about “wealth creation”, making sure that much of that new wealth goes to them.) more than capitalism, i think what’s concentrated in SV is talent, especially, technical talent. creative destruction resonates *very strongly* with people here; the whole idea of SV is that a handful of kids can change an entire industry, or even create a new one. they usually fail, and sometimes they succeed. imagine how steve jobs or the google guys would have done in europe. the google guys would have gone to the librarians and asked, how can we help you find information? steve jobs would have run long, extensive marketing tests to determine what people want. or maybe he’d go to siemens to try to convince some high level manager that a smart phone was a good idea. of course what happened is way cooler. steve jobs had better taste than everyone else, so he made stuff he liked, period. and the google guys just forged a new path, without seeking the endorsement or buy in of the librarians. in europe, a startup would try to get some giant company to use their product/technology, a long, boring, and tedious process.

typically, a handful of EPFL students would not imagine/believe that they can change the world. stanford students (who are not more talented) do. so, i think it’s mostly a cultural difference, and not something that has to do with capitalism.

Innovation and Society: are the Returns and Benefits Sufficient?

Here is my latest contribution to Entreprise Romande. I return to a subject that is dear to me, Innovation and Society. (If you read French, the original version is certainly better…)

ER-Lebret-June2014

The Enterprise is more than ever at the core of the political debates through its role in the creation of jobs and wealth – both individual and collective. It is indirectly the source of populism and of protectionist temptations. Inside and outside of its walls, innovation is the subject of similar tensions: are the returns and benefits of innovation sufficient for society?

Mariana Mazzucato and the Entrepreneurial State

A recent book tackles the topic of the respective roles of business and government in innovation: Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University of Sussex, develops in The Entrepreneurial State [1] – a fascinating and quasi-militant book – the argument that the States have not collected the fruits not only of direct investments in their universities, and even indirectly from the help and support provided to businesses, investments and supports that are at the origin of the major innovations of the last fifty years.

Mazzucato brilliantly illustrates this through the example of the iPhone and the iPad, which integrate components initially financed by the public bodies: from electronics developed for the space and military programs to the touch screen or GPS, or even Siri, the voice recognition tool (which has sources at EPFL), the author shows that Apple has masterfully integrated technologies initiated by public money. Google is also the result of research done at StanfordUniversity. Mazzucato adds that clinical trials for new drugs are mainly made ​​in hospitals funded by public money, from molecules equally discovered in university laboratories.

Mazzucato therefore advocates major reforms both on the governance of the initial support and on taxation. She fights for a new tax system that would compensate the absence or insufficiency of direct returns to universities or from businesses, all the more that it is indeed undeniable that multinational companies easily optimize their taxation. She shows how Apple has taken advantage of international rules to create subsidiaries in Nevada or Ireland to minimize its taxes.

The English researcher is convincingly claiming that Apple has to pay more. But how to pay? Paying a license for the GPS, but to whom? I’m not even sure that the GPS is patented. And if the Internet had been patented, it would probably not have had the same development – I do not ned to go over the limitations of the French Minitel. By seeking more direct financial returns (which are not as insignificant as one might think – Stanford has received more than $300M for its equity shares in Google and over $200M of the first patents in biotechnology), the risk would be very high to discourage creators and stifle innovation. I doubt that the solution lies in more rigorous national rules.

Peter Thiel and the Individual Entrepreneur

Peter Thiel, an libertarian entrepreneur and investor, is so opposed to such views that he encourages youung people motivated in entrepreneurship to abandon their studies by providing them with $ 100,000 grants and he even imagines moving businesses to offshore vessels off California so they totally escape tax. He is afraid of any form of public support which, he considers, quickly becomes bureaucratic. It is worth adding that Thiel’s motto also shows his skepticism about the social benefits of innovation: “We wanted flying cars; instead we got 140 characters.” [2]

Upstream, there is therefore the question of direct returns and the actual role of the state. But without the incredible creativity of Steve Jobs at Apple, without the extraordinary ambition of Larry Page and Sergei Brin at Google, without the vision of Bob Swanson, a co-founder of Genentech, the world would probably not have experienced the same technological revolutions. Downstream, the question arises of how to create international rules on innovation. Let me make a wide digression. The Internet, another innovation initiated by public authorities, has become a major topic in the political, economic and fiscal fields. But “neutrality and self-organization are part of the libertarian options […] and are inconsistent with politics. Humanity must seize this opportunity to revisit what is considered important. […] The Internet enables the emergence of a global political space, but it is still to be invented. At the time of this invention, the Internet will probably be gone!” [3]

If from experience I lean more toward Thiel’s view on innovation as an individual act of exception, actually quite far from the public investment, even if it is its seed, yet, I cannot agree with abandoning the public good. It is the soil that allows the emergence of exceptional talent. Companies also have their share of responsibility in discounting the importance of the collectivity. Just like in any complex human activity, innovation is a delicate balance between private and public actors. But especially today, issues have become global. The question is not so much as Mazzucato says that the role of the state has been largely underestimated in this process, but rather that the tax return has largely been decreased by globalization and the lack of economic governance.

Tax as a single global solution?

Does society receive any return from the public money spent on schools, roads, security? No, because it’s not an investment in the true sense of an objective of financial gain. These are infrastructure provisions that allow citizens and businesses to exist and develop properly. And they 8should) pay taxes in return. When Darpa funds Stanford, it is not sure that a student from Korea will not benefit from it and later work for Samsung. The concept of ​​supporting national champions seems of another age.

We are left with Tax, in a renewed vision of its global governance. Whether innovation is in the public or private domain, the world globalization will soon prevent from hiding behind the argument of whom is basically at its origin. Not only individuals but states also must agree upom a greater share of its profits, at the risk of serious crises. At a time when Switzerland reviews its tax policy and its citizens think they can create barriers from its neighbors as its borders, it is important to be aware that the current tensions are an opportunity to revisit the status of innovation in society before new major crises emerge. Wishful thinking?

[1] The Entrepreneurial State – Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths. 2013, Anthem Press, http://marianamazzucato.com
[2] Peter Thiel. Zero to One – Notes on Startups or How to Build the Future. Sept. 2014, Crown Business press, http://zerotoonebook.com
[3] Boris Beaude. Les fins d’Internet. 2014, FYP Editions, http://www.beaude.net/ie