Back in October 2010, I was one of the speakers at TEDxAlsace, the famous conference which was held for the first time in Alsace.
The venue was “La Fonderie”, an old smelting plant, which got an incredible facelift and is now a very modern building part of the Université de Strasbourg.
The theme was Vision(s) of the Future, Vision(s) fu Futur in French. My talk was about the relation between humans and machines in the future, but not in a distant future. I won’t be a spoiler, just spend the 14′ to watch it.
I never had the opportunity to post my videos on my blog, so despite the small delays, here it is… In order, the video with English subtitles, the original video on the TEDx channel, and a small documentary on the making of.
After the videos, at the bottom of the article, you will find the complete English transcript.
TEDxAlsace – The Humans and the Machines
French with English subtitles. Click on the captions button, select English.
TEDxAlsace – Les Hommes et les Machines
In French, captions are not very reliable, from the TEDx Talks YouTube channel.
The making of
Here is short documentary on before and after the event, in French.
You and I have one thing in common.
You and I, we are part of a privileged elite.
We are one of the 10 species that use tools to improve their lives.
When we think of tools, we immediately think about hand tools, like a wrench. But what is actually a tool?
I developed this “insight” recently not far from here, the eagle animal park in Kintzheim in Alsace. The bird you see in the picture is called an Egyptian Vulture. It drops a stone to break ostrich eggs and get to the contents.
Prehistoric man created his tools to hunt, to assemble his clothes. When we imagine prehistoric humans, we think of them as primitive hunters of mammoths. In fact, prehistoric man had needles to sew skins together and thus improve his clothing.
When we think of the Gauls, we first see Asterix and Obelix, This last one… not being overweight… just somewhat wrapped. Yet the Gauls invented the first grain harvester.
In 1896, when the August and Louis Lumière projected their movie “The Arrival of a train at La Ciotat” an urban legend was that the crowd run away in a panic. If we had not overcome this type of fear, we never would have had a film like Avatar.
When I was ten I lived in Morocco, my father managed a factory. When one asked me what I wanted to do later, I said “robotics engineer” At the time, my motivations were not clear, I often said, wrongly, “to avoid work” When you are a young teenager your wisdom may not be at its best…
Actually, for a long time I wondered why. I wondered what were the under spanning motivations for such a thought.
I came to the conclusion that I wanted to improve human lives. Although working conditions in the factory of my dad were very good, I wanted the work more enjoyable, less repetitive. That’s why I wanted to build robots.
Robots are cool for geeks, but for most, robots are scary. Even if there is nothing rational about that. We must educate, explain, and demonstrate that their contributions are positive.
There are also some unexpected consequences of inventions. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone so that normal people, can call scholars to learn and thus improve their lives. A kind of TEDx before the time… Fortunately (or unfortunately), other uses have developed.
Man has always created tools. For me, the primary driver is to improve his life and, occasionally, based on his level of altruism the life of others.
So, I imagined of a simple process for the implementation of technologies and tools.
Take little graph. Horizontally, I put the time. Vertically, I put the improvement of life. Of course, there is no real unit of measurement for “improving life” (although there are people working on the subject), but let’s assume…
Then I divide my cycle between three stages:
- The initial phase of innovation and discovery.
- Then we reach a stage of fear and questioning.
- To finally arrive at what I call the quantum leap.
There are many examples of fears, I mentioned robots, movie … I did not find traces of prehistoric man or on the Gauls, but I think we can easily imagine that the sight of a flint ax, for a Neanderthal it would not be very reassuring. Same would be for the phone to Mr. Bell, for the steam powered wagon of Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, for the Edison’s lamp, for the first rockets sent into space…
I still remember my grandmother saying “if the weather is quite out of order, it is because of all the satellites that we send into space.”
I’ll take another example, more concrete and closer to us and one I know quite well…
At the beginning of the Internet, everyone quickly found it’s great. It was so great that it generated a financial bubble. It exploded. and created a lasting irrational fear that “all internet companies will fail.” Now, this idea is solidly rooted in the minds of many financial lenders of our beautiful region.
But fortunately, Web 2.0, and now the Web Squared, has emerged, allowing the quantum leap to take place.
Man produces tools more complex tools. This summer, while vacationing in the U.S., my wife and I, we purchased a robot that vacuums the floors of our home.
This robot goes through my house automatically.
Our lives have been greatly improved.
Before we go on, I think it is important to understand that this curve is unending. One of my favorite quotes is that of Thomas Watson, author of the famous “Think” of IBM. Tom Watson was the president of the company for many years. In 1943, he believed that the world market for computers would be limited to five …
closer to our times, in 1977, the president and founder of Digital Equipment (DEC) said that the computer has no place at home. This is an example, but many shared this thought.
There are many such examples.
Where are we in the development of our Internet tools? Right now, I see one of these plateau. This step comes as Web 2.0 and Web Squared slowly mature into practical applications.
You already can hear the irrational fears, which appear:
I do not trust the Internet. I do not trust Facebook. I’m afraid to be fooled. Where is my personal data? How do I know if it is well protected?
My goal today is not to try to argue each of these points. But just compare this novel environment with the conventional accepted world. What guarantee offers your bank to protect your accounts? What happens if you lose your car keys? Just recall Père-Noël.fr?
Père-Noël.fr was one of the biggest disasters in French e-commerce, but it is now all forgotten.
Many of our tools have become real & complex machines.
And the reason we were raising all these questions is simply because we do not trust these machines.
Of course, we trust a number of machines: dishwasher, car, I just took the train to take me here, with all the mechanisms set up by the SNCF and RFF … I even trust an automatic vacuum cleaner in my house.
Let’s imagine together all we could do if we would trust new generation Internet machines.
Suppose that the machine understands my mails. It could identify who are my best friends (close friends, not those on Facebook). As the machine has access to my address book, it knows that one of my best friends lives in Massachusetts, near Boston.
I am interested to know what is happening in Boston. I am interested in what impacts my friend such as the collapse of a Big Dig tunnel, the Celtics being champions in 2008, the Red Sox beating the Yankees regularly.
Continue to dream: I just confirmed my flight to Las Vegas next October. The machine knows me and can suggest some interesting activities to do in “Sin City”.
There is of course no relationship with the pink phone mentioned earlier …
I believe Facebook knows … I’ll be in Morocco for the second Ignite in Casablanca. The machine can offer me some interesting information about the Kingdom of Morocco.
I have many more examples, but I must stay within my allocated 18 minutes and I cannot reveal everything.
In addition, I do not want to search for all this information. It must come automatically to me. The machine should get it and bring it to me automatically. I must be able to access my computer, my phone, my TV, my tablet or any other media…
To refer to a daily routine, imagine your morning newspaper, just tailored for you. The remaining question is how to give this machine a little dose of fantasy & creativity in order that the morning paper is not a dry listing of facts
I believe in the personal tailoring and screening of the information flow. It opens new doors for us that we do not yet imagine.
This is the future. The near future. To achieve this, we must trust the machines.
The machine will save time, make us more efficient. If so wished we can “info-snack”, we can use the targeted information when and where you want it …
In conclusion, I quote a friend of mine “we are what we share”. It is time to share with the machines. If we trust the machines, we will improve our lives.