Tag Archives: Policy

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).

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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.

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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

The Ends of the Internet by Boris Beaude

The Internet is only a reflection of technological change and globalization. As with these two issues, social and political tensions have naturally emerged, but are even more acute because of the specifics of the Network and the revolution it created in much less time than the previous World developments. (I will add below that the disappointments caused by excessive expectations from technology have also played a role.)

les-fins-d-internet-de-boris-beaude-fyp

The cover page of the book The Ends of the Internet says that the Internet has revolutionized the world in the fields of information, production, collaboration and transactions. Its author, Boris Beaude, is a geographer by training, which is an important point for the topic addressed here. Beaude has a strong contribution to the discussion about the constraints created by the Network. It is synthetic, and detailed, thanks to a short book (95 pages) however dense and exciting.

(I would not say the same of Evgeny Morozov’s book, To Save Everything, Click Here, which is also dense on related subjects, but too provocative or extreme to be totally convincing. I might come back on that book later in another post.)

Morozov-ToSaveEverything

The Internet (just like globalization) has revolutionized the World (page 15) by re- balancing the priorities (and re-creating tensions) between:

Before the Internet Since the Internet
Equality Freedom
Society Individual
Privacy Public Life / Transparency
Property Free

Beaude also mentions (page 24) problems linked to:
– Freedom of expression,
– Collective intelligence,
– Openness,
– Decentralization,
– Neutrality,
which are the topics of his chapters.

The Internet thus disturbs the local values in the territories, but the Internet (which is “a proper name just as well as France or the European Union” – page 14) is anything but virtual; it is an intangible space. Yet it must be able to survive private interests. The Internet makes distance (and time) less relevant without abolishing them, which “makes clear its disjunction with the plurality of territorial spaces” (page 23). It disrupts the States that have put some values higher than freedom (safety, property in the USA to which must be added dignity, privacy in Europe). Beaude is geographer!

He adds: “A common space for humanity is clearly not enough to spontaneously create common values. But the social contracts are at the heart of politics. They offer to give up freedoms by collectively delegating authority in the name of freedoms seen as more fundamental” (page 29). See the “my freedom ends where someone else’s begins.” The Internet is both a space of freedom and space of absence of law (intellectual property, widespread surveillance, private use of the data; the list is long.)

And this is where is one of the worst issues – among others. Not only in the world of the Internet, but also in the field of technological innovation where experts often impress politics and society. This creates a tension between the individual and society, between private and public entities, between experts and decision makers. “The computer code is now the law” (page 47).

About Collective Intelligence: “Believing in the potential of individuals is precisely not to believe in one only, and it is to accept individual fallibility, while recognizing the power of appreciation that resides in anyone” (page 38). Then follows a section on democracy and “its difficulty in organizing common will/good with individual will/good” (and the famous, the “worst system except for all the others.”) In addition, the largely minority character of the contributors to the collective intelligence on the Internet (e.g. 0.0002 % of users for French-speaking Wikipedia) is an additional limit, not to mention the loss of their independence and the privatization of this intelligence (pp. 40-46).

You should also read his excellent synthesis on free and property. The emerging intellectual property concepts of Copyleft and Creative Commons. Free only exists because a third party pays; not only advertising but also sponsors in the case of Wikipedia or Mozilla. This is not so new since both Press and TV used these methods. It is just a matter of scale and strong dematerialization. The minimal costs of copying and transmission revolutionize the world, but the initial production of goods must still be financed. Netflix and Spotify show that new models are possible, but only if only the aggregator or distributor is correctly paid, the content producers may disappear if not in quantity, at least in quality… And at the same time, Beaude reminds us that free is also a freedom factor.

Another subtle topic: hypercentrality (Google, Facebook, Twitter) poses fantastic problems, not least being the circumvention of laws and taxation (page 75). For example, the “weak links” (those which are neither daily nor intense) are also essential. And threatened?

Beaude interestingly mentions the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which requires a warrant for any search. It raises the constitutionality of the monitoring carried out by the NSA (page 81).

How has the Internet reached the point where the results of Google and Twitter differ depending on the country and offers by iTunes, Netflix or YouTube are different or even inexistent with geography? (Page 85). This missing neutrality will lead to the neutralization of the Internet, even its death (page 89). “Neutrality and self-organization are part of the libertarian options […] and are inconsistent with politics. […] Humankind must seize this opportunity to revisit what we consider to be important, really important. […] The challenge is unusually complex. We will have to choose between the end of the Internet and the globalization of politics” (pp. 91-93).

Beaude therefore indicates that the dilemma is simple: “If in accordance with the national social contracts, the Internet is partitioned according to the Nations. By not respecting national social contracts, the Internet might be partitioned even more in the relatively near future” (page 35). “The Internet enables the emergence of a global political space, but it is still to be invented. Before this invention comes, the Internet will probably be gone!”(Page 36)

As usual my synthesis is imperfect, but if you’re interested or intrigued, read Beaude!

Thiel-FlyingCars

Finally, and this is not quite the subject of Beaude, there is also some disappointment with the promises of technology and the Internet in particular… Just read again Thiel’s motto – “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters” – that I have already mentioned here. This only would not be so bad. But then what about the citation of the former CEO of TF1 – “what we sell to Coca-Cola is human brain time made available. […] Nothing is more difficult than getting this availability” – or that of Jeff Hammerbacher (thanks Martin for the reference): “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads, that sucks.” Which brings me back to Morozov whose arguments on centrism and solutionism of the Internet seem very excessive. It is not the exaggerate promises of the Internet that are so much delusional, but the risk of drift and disappearance of the Internet that is the real problem – but this is another topic!

Ray Kurzweil has mostly wrong predictions

As often, Marc Voinchet had a remarkable broadcast this morning on France Culture. First a great guest, Cécile Lafontaine for her book The body market, the commodification of human life in the era of bioeconomy (in French only – my translation of the title) which goes beyond the adressed topic by asking questions about the tensions between the individual and society. It provides excellent answers to the debates opened by Thiel. But here I stop and let you discover the interview if the subject interests you.

FranceCulture-Matins

In addtion Xavier de la Porte wrote an excellent chronicle that I copied directly from the website of France Culture on the French part of my blog (in order to be able to translate it here): The brain is not one million lines of code.

When we look at what the digital world has to say about the body and life, there is a high likeliness to find quickly intimidating predictions: “Soon we will all be cyborgs” and “In 2045, we will have completely merged with the machines.” A specialist in this kind of statements is a guy named Ray Kurzweil – which I mentioned here already. Pretty awesome inventor, wise businessman, Kurweil became in the last twenty years the promoter of a movement called transhumanism – which considers that humankind will soon merge with machines, thus giving rise to post-humanity – ideas that Kurzweil sold worldwide with books and conferences, ideas that he also sells to super-powerful companies: Google has hired him to run a program on teaching language to machines. The problem with Kurzweil – and many transhumanists – it is their strength of conviction that passes through a scientific-techno-philosophical discourse which we feel is not right, but without knowing exactly where. But recently , I came across evidence that Kurzweil says non-sense. I enjoyed my discovery and I want to share this joy with you.

It has to do with an important aspect of transhumanism: the belief always repeated that very soon we can duplicate our brains into computers. Kurzweil believes that this will be possible in 2020, and moreover, he has stored the brain of his deceased father in that perspective. And in order to support his thesis, here is the type of speech that Kurzweil gives: “The code of the brain is in the genome. The human genome is 3 billion base pairs, six billion bits, which is about 800 million bits after compression. After eliminating redundancies […] this information can be compressed into approximately 50 million bits. But the brain is about half of that, about 25 million bits, or one million lines of code.” And here, in a ruthless and intimidating demonstration, Kurzweil shows us a million lines of code suffice to duplicate the function of the human. (I say “sufficient” because it is just one million lines of code; for comparison, Microsoft Office 2013 is 45 million lines of code).

Except that for once, someone came forward to explain that Kurzweil told non-sense. This person is called Paul Zachary Myers. He is a recognized biologist at the University of Minnesota, specializing in developmental genetics and writes a blog called Pharyngula. And it is on his blog that Myers explains very calmly why what Kurzweil says is wrong. Here is his demonstration. The premise of the reasoning of Kurzweil is “The code of the brain is in the genome.” Totally wrong, says the researcher. The code of the brain is not encoded in the genome. What is in the genome is a collection of molecular tools which is the regulating portion of the genome, which makes cells sensitive to interactions with a complex environment. During its development, the brain unfolds through interactions between cells, interactions which we understand today a small part only. The final result is a brain that is much more complex than the sum of nucleotides that encode a few thousand proteins. One can not deduce a brain from the protein sequences of its genome. How will these sequences express is dependent on the environment and the history of hundreds of billions of cells, interdependent on each other. We have no way to calculate in principle all possible interactions and functions of a single protein with tens of thousands of others who are in the cell, which is the essential first step in the execution of the unlikely algorithm of Kurzweil. In support of his argument, the researcher takes a few examples of some proteins and shows how the interactions are numerous, complex and mostly still unknown.

What is very interesting is that Myers states that he is not hostile to the idea that the brain is a kind of computer, and we will be able to artificially reproduce one day its functions. But he says that he does not need to say stupide nonsense, as does Kurzweil and build hisreasoning on false premises. And here is for you, Kurzweil. If only more researchers could take more time to bring their expertise to question the transhumanist speech, it may save us to hear many absurdities and attend another commodification of human life, which is about seeling biotechnology dream.