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La machine de Mark Zuckerberg dans le métavers s'est grippée toute seule.

Metavers, bitcoin… What if we made really useful technologies?

Posted on November 4, 2022, 7:15 am

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt denounced “the enslavement of the people by big business.” He did not propose to dismantle it (it would be under strengthened antitrust laws from 1914) but wanted to “return it to the national interest”. In 2022, the same debate should open up around the world. Who is metaverse really for? Bitcoin? Artificial intelligence? Implantation of chips in the brain? And even the conquest of Mars?

Professors Maurice Stock and Ariel Ezrachi describe ‘tech barons’ , the terminology used to refer to the “thief barons” in Roosevelt’s time, to warn us about their “poisonous innovations” (1). They enter our “private lives, our independence, our well-being” to manipulate them. Their firepower (Meta has research credentials as high as that of the French state) allows them to not only “crush” any competition but to direct our ways of thinking and our lives.

Little money for rare diseases

Exaggerate? However, the risks of drifting towards “surveillance capitalism” are too great to take into account. The same, on another level, for the innovations of robotics and the systematic replacement of man by machine, which eliminate millions of middle-class jobs and which are not lost in the rise of populism.

There can be no question of “returning scientists to the service of the people”, as in the Soviet Union. Lyssenkism is as much horror as it is wrong, the world must be as free as the artist. But it is also wrong to think that states cannot do anything. Quite the opposite: if researchers invented the intranet, its popularization on the Internet came from the Pentagon’s credits. The rise of Asiatic geese from Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and then China itself was driven by governments’ desire for export-oriented innovation. Covid has shown, quite ruthlessly, how rare and tropical diseases have been the subject of little research, and medicine mobilizes very exclusively to extend the life of the rich in the North.

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In general, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) denounces the fact that global funds are directed more towards weapons than towards “useful” research, that is, compatible with the Millennium Health Goals, education, water, and today global warming. Oddly enough, the energy sector, which seems so central today, has been the subject of only poorly researched in terms of credits in recent years. Science “for better development” is urgent, sums up the organization.

self-correcting mechanisms

Humanity generates self-correcting mechanisms, and we are glad to see that the most useless inventions fall apart on their own. The fall of cryptocurrencies confirms that the transfer by somewhat ideological manipulators of a good technology, the blockchain, quickly spoils the naive. It is better to play racing, at least there is a “primary” behind this game, wonderful thoroughbred horses. Mark Zuckerberg’s machine, Metaverse’s way of “grabbing” internet users by immersing them in virtual reality for days and nights, has taken over on its own. The researchers themselves do not go into the world in which they were asked to work, they clearly do not believe this, and investors begin to be reluctant to put money in the president’s imagination.

The same can be said, or almost, of artificial intelligence, all of which are geared towards self-driving cars. In Europe, the much better, start-ups are starting to be created that are looking for truly intelligent artificial intelligence, which does not replace teachers or doctors but helps them perform better. And then you should never despair: Meta, Google and Microsoft also have useful open-source AI initiatives and there are California funders who insist on competing with them.

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But should we feel reassured by these self-correcting mechanisms alone? Does common sense always win? Innovation “that works with humans and not against them,” in the words of the economist Dani Rodrik (2), is the subject of multiple experiences and hopes. But he believes it is time for “a new direction for innovation policies”. Tough discussion, basic discussion.

(1) Institute for New Economic Thinking, August 29, 2022.

(2) Project Syndicate, February 9, 2022.