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Why This Site ?

(Editorial 12 décember 2000)

The end of the XXth century and the beginning of the XXIth announce, we believe, huge changes in the possible impact of our species on the world, including itself, and consequently on our understanding of the world, and of ourselves.
Such changes, barring unforeseen accidents, will reach their full impact potential in the first decades of this century, and continue, with constant acceleration, in the following decades. This means that a child who is today ten years old will be able to, at the end of his life, see our conception of the universe and of human beings with the same view, interested but with a global difficulty to understand, that we have of ancient and feudal societies.

To begin, we have to bear in mind that, if no action is taken, such prodigious changes will only be understandable, and manageable, for a very small minority of persons, who belong to socially and intellectually privileged population layers of the Western world, and in particular of the United States. Moreover, all advances will be discussed and communicated in English. In some, but not all cases, Europe will be able to stay afloat. All other persons, as well as all other living beings, will be affected by changes, but will have to passively accept them, in some cases for the best as far as they are concerned, but probably more often for the worse. At the same time, it will be possible to devise new policies aimed at sharing and balancing the access to knowledge and power. It will also be necessary to establish a more balanced distribution of power which, despite the declarations of intent of politicians, does not appear close at this moment.

Such warnings must not lead to a negative or "catastrophist" judgment of the coming changes - which will take place unstoppably anyway, as far as we can foresee, due to the selective advantages that they will bring to those who will exploit them. On the contrary, such changes should be considered by everyone, and especially by young people, as something that will open incredibly exciting and productive options. They will really represent, to use a familiar image, new frontiers to cross, opening infinite new territories to explore.

In which domains will the changes that we foresee take place? One could think of space exploration, advances in high energy physics and cosmology, and to the development of new, renewable and environmentally clean sources of energy (basically derived from solar energy). But in our opinion such advances, which will certainly take place in this century, will appear as a by-product, if we can describe them with this word, of much more fundamental developments. These will take place in the domains of artificial life and intelligence, genetic engineering, and decoding the detailed functions of the brain.

An important point that must be stressed is that, despite the over-specialization still too common among researchers, these three research domains will only attain their full impact if their practitioners will learn to collaborate according to the model proposed by Gérald Edelman. In summary, it will be necessary to systematically foster redundancy and re-entrance, by accepting the permanent selection of the solution most fit to competitive survival. Redundancy means that different techniques (electronic, genetic, neurological) will be able to, and will have to, converge toward the same goals or functions accepting, if necessary, some operational degradation. Re-entrance, more difficult to define, means that any change in a domain or sub domain will have to be immediately transmitted and transferred to each and every other domain and, in turn, all reactions to such transmission or transfer will have to be immediately retransmitted to each and every other domain, including the initial generator domain. The development of high-bandwidth interactive networks, parallel or linear, can today propose solutions for re-entrance which were difficult to envisage in the past, due to the delays and the complexity of conventional publishing and communication.

The societal model that will emerge from this evolution, a model which it will be important to promote, will be based on complexity and fast reactivity. Gérald Edelman has defined the complexity of a system as "an optimal synthesis of functional specialisation and integration within the system". In other words, every actor performs his function in the best possible way but permanently informing all other actors who, in turn, will introduce appropriate modifications in performing their own functions. Reactivity, or in other words the reaction and response times after an exchange, should ideally approach biologic and molecular reaction times or, to simplify, aim at a performances better than the typical reaction times of administration and politics. A society that meets these two requirements will never, evidently, be static or able to be described by objective synthetic definitions. Actually, it will be a process-based society, embodying itself in as well as developing itself through the activities or actions of its various actors, and thus partly coercive and limiting for all actors.

Therefore, with the creation of the site Automates intelligents, we wish to contribute to:

  • popularising as much as possible and disseminating to the citizens the works and thinking in the sciences and technologies targeted,

  • repositioning, in political and philosophical terms, the works and perspectives presented,

  • creating a site in French,exploiting the possibilities of the Internet, and aimed at facilitating the access to the sources as well as the publication of documents and information produced. For the longer term, if the resources available will permit it, we wish to publish also in English -or simultaneously in 3 or 4 languages- to create a site with a European dimension,

  • gathering a community as wide as possible around the technology domains targeted, by working interactively with the readers: we have great expectations for the results of the contribution of scientists and philosophers to the life of this site.

Jean-Paul Baquiast et Christophe Jacquemin
 

*Gerald Edelman: Comment la matière devient conscience - Editions Odile Jacob 2000.