Facing the challenges of AI – Christian Clot
Christian Clot is an extraordinary character. Both a researcher and an explorer, he spent 4 times 30 days in the most extreme places on the planet. I saw his videos and testimonies and was much impressed. How you could get out of this time spent in the hottest Iranian desert in the world where the slightest drop of perspiration evaporates instantly! I interviewed Christian as part of the upcoming AI Paris 2019 exhibition, which will be held on June 11 and 12, of which Visionary Marketing is a media partner. As a researcher, Christian reflects on how humans may adapt to the most profound changes that await us in the coming decades. Artificial intelligence is not the least of these challenges.
You have experienced the most extreme places on the planet, for what purpose?
I have been conducting studies for about ten years now on the human capacity to adapt to new and changing conditions.
I did this because I have been an explorer for quite some time now and I have observed in the field the changes experienced by people who live in these tough climates: cognitive changes, personality changes and changes in the way they function very profoundly.
So I decided to use extreme environments to see how the human brain reacts when it is confronted with significant changes.
You stated that we are going to experience massive changes, what are they?
We are going to experience three structural changes. The first is not just about the environment and climate change, but also plastic and soil contamination, which are both extremely damaging for humanity and life in general.
The second major change is the subject of AI Paris 2019, technological change with the arrival of new technological resources that will profoundly change the way we function as humans.
The third change, societal change with a huge increase in population: 1 billion 100 years ago to over 9 billion in a few years.
These three changes are simultaneous and will, therefore, require us as a human species to redefine ourselves in relation to our future.
What are the parallels between climate change and technological change, mainly due to AI, Christian Clot?
I think we’re going to have to transform what we were for millennia. We used to experience slow-paced changes and long-lasting environments. We could determine what we would be in ten or twenty years, which is no longer possible today.
These changes will require a profound redefinition of who we are as a species and also as individuals.
With the environmental change, we are experiencing an intense acceleration. We consider that the acceleration is such that in ten years’ time, some glaciers may have disappeared. By then we will have fundamentally transformed the Earth’s climate.
I think the same thing is observable with technology. We see the extremely rapid evolution of new technologies. This does not mean that they are evil, but that we must know what they will be to us and simply prepare to adapt to radically new living conditions.
In your opinion, man is a collaborative animal. Will this help us to overcome the enormous change brought about by AI, Christian Clot?
Man is fundamentally a collaborative and cooperative animal. A single human being cannot do anything alone in the middle of a desert. Faced with new situations, we are very weak.
In fact, from the moment humans are placed within a group, they can produce amazing solutions for several reasons: first because they were developed for this particular purpose. In prehistoric times, it was not possible to hunt a woolly mammoth alone! It had to be done in a group.
The second thing is that humans can formulate ideas, whether religious, economic or philosophical, and they are able to convene around concepts. When you bring together people from different backgrounds they can find unusual solutions to problems they did not yet know. This is not the case with technologies for they are developed to address specific problems.
The interesting thing is that our brains, which we still know very little about, are able to function in a collaborative mode. We now know that a person who performs a task does not stimulate the same areas of his/her brain if he/she is alone in a room or if he/she is accompanied by other people even if they do not interact with him or her.
We can only surmise what potential could be derived from the pooling of all such collective human intelligence.
Artificial intelligence has an extraordinary capacity for development and it is evolving enormously. But we must not believe in its ability to become autonomous.
I think that today, artificial intelligence offers a development that will be of enormous use in solving very complex problems. But these will always be unit problems. Humans, with their brains, will always be able to solve complex and new issues.
As a conclusion, is artificial intelligence a danger or an opportunity?
It is an opportunity if we accept to consider AI for what it should be, namely a tool with an impressive computing capacity. Evangelise for this and the coexistence of artificial intelligence and natural intelligence because they each have a role to play.
It is not only a technological subject, but it is also a societal and even political question and I am quite surprised to see that we consider it only from a technological point of view.
We must put this debate on the table: how do we want to continue to develop artificial intelligence while taking ethics and philosophy into account. We have indeed found out that with major technology giants like Facebook or Google, we are no longer sure we master what we have created.
I think that’s the lot of every creator. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we have created things that are not entirely under our control, and that is entirely normal.
It is therefore up to society to take up this subject, not to prohibit or block the development of AI, but to put a certain number of regulations in place that allow new technologies and living species to coexist in harmony.