Luca De Biase: Well, being intro­duced as an incred­i­ble speak­er in the fake news con­text, I would under­line the incred­i­ble.” In terms of this year’s state­ments, I was think­ing with Paolo yes­ter­day about this kind of word­ing, a per­son of con­se­quence.” It used to be a man of con­se­quence” but now we need to say a per­son a con­se­quence, and it’s a good thing. The per­son of con­se­quence should be a per­son that is coher­ent. It does what it says. He stays where he stands. He is a per­son of consequence. 

But in a chang­ing world, what is it, a per­son of con­se­quence in a chang­ing world? Is it coher­ent or is it some­thing dif­fer­ent? What kind of coher­ence do we need? What kind of approach do we need to see the chang­ing world in a way that is pos­i­tive? A per­son of con­se­quence in a chang­ing world. 

Shift Happens; what makes a new thing become an innovation?

You know, this is a phrase that I use a lot; you know already. But you for­got it so I remind you that shift hap­pens. And chang­ing can be sort of good or sort of bad. And also could be just a new thing, or could be a very impor­tant new thing—something that changes the world. An inno­va­tion is not a new thing, it is some­thing that has con­se­quences. Thinking about con­se­quences, you divide new things in two parts. One part is about new things that just are new, and that’s it. And oth­er things that are new and change the world.

And there are intend­ed con­se­quences, or unin­tend­ed con­se­quences. In the same time in which State of the Net was con­ceived. In the States they invent­ed this stuff. And it had con­se­quences. It changed our body. It changed our life. It changed a lot of things. 

And unin­tend­ed con­se­quences are some­thing that we are talk­ing about at the moment while we are talk­ing about fake news, data own­er­ship, trans­paren­cy, and all of this stuff. There are many fron­tiers of shift. And the F” is always there. 

These new tech­nolo­gies open pos­si­bil­i­ties, and close oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties. We live in eco-technical nich­es as any­body else in the world, but we cre­ate our nich­es and we change them. So we adapt to the nich­es that we already have built in the past, and then we change them and cre­ate new nich­es in which we will adapt. But the chang­ing is exact­ly what we need to understand. 

What is impor­tant in the chang­ing sit­u­a­tion and what is just new? What has con­se­quences? What has­n’t con­se­quence? What has intend­ed con­se­quences and what does­n’t have intend­ed con­se­quences? I would like to show you just three new things. 

This is real­ly new. I mean, they just announced at MIT that they cre­at­ed Norman. Norman is an AI that the has been devel­oped in the Dark Web. And Norman has only seen what hap­pens in the Dark Web. And it is able to tell what it sees in images. So they show Norman images, and Norman says what those images are about. 

And and they showed him also the images of the Rorschach Test. And they wait­ed for what he was see­ing in those. For exam­ple in this case, Norman, who has been trained as I told you in the Dark Web, in this image it sees a man that went down a build­ing and col­lapsed on the ground and is dead. And every oth­er image in the Rorschach Test brings Norman to say these kind of ugly, vio­lent, ter­ri­ble things. He’s para­noid. It’s a para­noid, psy­cho­path­ic arti­fi­cial intelligence. 

Is this impor­tant or not, that they cre­at­ed this kind of thing? Clearly I don’t care very much about this, but it tells you that the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is what the con­text in which it was trained makes it. 

So this in a way is impor­tant to under­stand con­se­quences. What are we doing? You know there is a lot of debate about intro­duc­ing arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence in the world. Some peo­ple say we are cre­at­ing aliens that will dom­i­nate the human race. Some oth­ers are just talk­ing about the fact that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will make jobs dis­ap­pear. And some oth­ers say it will make us bet­ter, more hap­py, with less bad things and repet­i­tive things to do, and oth­er things that we are just not able to do like read­ing old books or all the papers about our dis­ci­pli­nary domain and using this kind of knowl­edge for act­ing in our profession. 

So, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence has a lot of con­se­quences but we don’t know them, we are just con­cerned about that in this moment, and we under­stand that arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence is what we train it to be. 

A small robot consisting of a set of tank-style treads and camera mounted on a movable arm

This oth­er guy, you know it. It’s the fron­tier of new weapons. This is a robot. It was used to kill one of those ter­ror­ists that where killing the police in Texas. One of them was not reach­able by humans so they sent this guy and it was able to kill him. What are the con­se­quences of weapons that are just robots? 

And final­ly, this is anoth­er new thing that hap­pened. This ani­mal is able to do the wool that is used in cash­mere and pro­duces 30% more cash­mere because it has been changed in the DNA using CRISPR/Cas9. CRISPR/Cas9 is a new tech­nol­o­gy. Relatively new; it was invent­ed in 2011. Now it’s the tech­nol­o­gy that attracts more invest­ment in the states, and in Boston in par­tic­u­lar, for life sci­ences. It is able to gene edit DNA. We think that it’s very clear­ly usable in terms of devel­op­ment of new ani­mals that can be use­ful for humans, but it is usable for chang­ing humans, too. What are the con­se­quences of this? What will happen? 

The approach to under­stand­ing this is exact­ly the dis­cus­sion that we have. And I asked Paolo to tell me when I have to stop so the con­se­quences will not be too bad for you lis­ten­ing to this speech. 

But CRISPR/Cas9 is such a prob­lem that the inven­tor of the tech­nol­o­gy that is called Jennifer Doudna—DNA in the name, Doudna. Jennifer Doudna asked all her col­leagues to come to Washington and dis­cuss a mora­to­ri­um on using CRISPR/Cas9 on humans. They dis­cussed for a week about the con­se­quences of using CRISPR/Cas9 on humans. And after a week, they decid­ed that they will use it on humans. And the idea was if we don’t do it, oth­ers will do it, so we’ll do it. 

That kind of approach to con­se­quences, it’s gen­er­al. It’s some­thing that we should know that hap­pens. There are peo­ple that just do things and then think about what the con­se­quences are, and there are oth­er peo­ple that think before doing things. Usually more of the first kind of peo­ple are in America, and more of the sec­ond kind of peo­ple are in Europe. 

The fact is that it’s dif­fi­cult to know about con­se­quences. We don’t believe any­more in fore­cast­ing. As the econ­o­mist has said, eco­nom­ics is the sci­ence that stud­ies why its fore­cast­ing did­n’t hap­pen. So it’s clear that we don’t believe any­more in fore­cast­ing. But a whole bunch of things that we do are about a sort of idea that we have about the future. And the only thing that we know about the future it is the con­se­quence of what we do. 

So what hap­pens, we don’t know the future we just rely on nar­ra­tives that make sense of what hap­pens in a way that cre­ates a sto­ry. And in that sto­ry we think we under­stand the con­se­quences of what we do. That is a nar—it’s always a nar­ra­tive. It can be the econ­o­my, finan­cial mar­ket kind of nar­ra­tive. It can be the tech­ni­cal kind of nar­ra­tive that says resis­tance is futile, tech­nol­o­gy will come, expo­nen­tial growth of the abil­i­ty of com­put­ers will change the word and humans will be over­whelmed by tech­nol­o­gy. Or oth­er things like that. But they are always nar­ra­tives. The real prob­lem is dis­cussing the nar­ra­tives and mak­ing them some­thing that we know about, we improve constantly. 

There are also dif­fer­ent approach­es in terms of ana­lyt­i­cal or syn­thet­ic approach. I mean, if you go ana­lyt­i­cal on the con­se­quences of what you do, you will find an incred­i­ble com­plex­i­ty of ram­i­fi­ca­tions of con­se­quences which will stop you at a cer­tain time. If you go just syn­thet­ic, I mean, let’s stop a ship com­ing with immi­grants and we will solve the prob­lem. That kind of nar­ra­tive is very syn­thet­ic and also very much critiquable. 

Water, Ramez Naam

There are oth­er nar­ra­tives which are real nar­ra­tives. This is a sto­ry that was asked to this sci­ence fic­tion nov­el­ist by the Institute for the Future in a project that they made about under­stand­ing what hap­pens with chips implant­ed in brains. And many nov­el­ists came out with their ideas of what is the sce­nario that it cre­at­ed. Naam came up with a sto­ry that talks about the fact that every­body with a chip is com­pet­i­tive, every­body else with­out a chip is not com­pet­i­tive, so every­body needs a chip. And in that soci­ety where every­body needs a chip, some are rich and so they buy the chip, which is very expen­sive. Others are not rich, so they accept chips that are not expen­sive but they bring adver­tis­ing. So in their brains, when they go around, every bot­tle of water tells them Buy me because you need me,” that kind of thing. 

So, these are nar­ra­tives. And the intel­li­gent thing to do is to dis­cuss nar­ra­tives. We have a sto­ry of big nar­ra­tives in the last hun­dred years. One major nar­ra­tive that we knew until the 70s was mod­ern­iza­tion, the mod­ern nar­ra­tive. And it was led by two big nar­ra­tives that were Marxism and lib­er­al­ism. It was crit­i­cized by post­mod­ernists. They were like Lyotard and oth­er philoso­phers, telling us that the big nar­ra­tives don’t work. We need to exper­i­ment with new nar­ra­tives and sort of like sit­u­a­tion­ists research, cre­ate a cul­ture of move­ment, of exper­i­ment, of some­thing that is a weak kind of nar­ra­tive but is a leav­ing nar­ra­tive in the sense that Paolo was prob­a­bly talk­ing about before, but with a prob­lem. They did­n’t go any­where. They just told us about the end of mod­ernism. They were post-mod­ern, but there was no oth­er rela­tion­ship with real­i­ty than a chang­ing of approach to reality.

My pro­pos­al is that we go for a post-contemporary approach. A post-contemporary approach is the idea of the state of the net” cul­ture. It is exact­ly what hap­pens here. Always look­ing ahead. Always look­ing at what’s next. Always look­ing at the next big thing or the next good thing. Imagining to be always after the present. It’s real­ly an antic­i­pa­to­ry— It’s not fore­cast­ing, it’s just look­ing at facts with an antic­i­pa­to­ry approach. And a crit­i­cal approach to see every new thing ask­ing the facts. If they are inno­va­tion, they will have con­se­quences or not. 

And in this cul­ture we don’t wait for con­se­quences to arrive. We think the com­plex­i­ty like peo­ple that are aware of the eco­log­i­cal approach that we need to under­stand consequences. 

So now, com­ing back to the the begin­ning, what is a per­son of con­se­quence? It’s not just coher­ent in the sense that she nev­er changes. A per­son of con­se­quence is able to change, because the con­text changes, but has a pur­pose, has a strat­e­gy. She wants to be the author of her life. And that’s real­ly I feel the secret of under­stand­ing how to live through the change in a way that helps us under­stand the con­se­quences. Not fore­cast­ing them, but under­stand­ing what we real­ly want to do in terms of find­ing ways that open pos­si­bil­i­ties and have con­se­quences that we like and want for the rest of the world. Thank you.

Further Reference

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