AI, Year Zero

Originally published in the French newspaper Les Echos

Among the flurry of recent events, one stands out as particularly momentous. It’s the update to the “Chat GPT” algorithm, an Artificial Intelligence that generates text on demand: “Write a love letter for my wife Leila”, “Draft a job description for a printer”, “Compose a poem about the song of cicadas in Provence”… Within seconds, the algorithm produces a unique, original, well-structured, coherent piece of text, free of any syntax or spelling errors.

The dawn of what’s come to be known as generative AI – an Artificial Intelligence capable of creating not just text but images, videos, and even computer code – undeniably marks a monumental leap in the annals of history.

The first thing that strikes anyone using “Chat GPT” is the sense of balance and temperance in its output: no excess, no extravagance, no extremist deviations. It even bears semblances of intelligence. This is significant and stems from the fact that this AI draws its knowledge from everything that’s been written, published, and posted online since the dawn of the internet. The raw material fueling “Chat GPT” is, therefore, the entirety of human output since the inception of writing 5000 years ago, now cataloged, preserved, and inventoried in cyberspace.

“Chat GPT” aims to be the quintessence of universal knowledge. It mirrors the best of humanity: it unites, connects, nuances, argues, seeks common ground. In this respect, it is diametrically opposed to the current zeitgeist, which often favors populists, extremists, and those thriving on division and conflict.

The burgeoning revolution will undoubtedly go down in history. You might have thought the internet was a paradigm shift in itself, but it’s merely a transitional phase between two eras. The internet is the tool, the means, the catalyst, the final preparatory step towards the rise of AI. It serves as the central nervous system, the giant hard drive that now embodies the concept of strong Artificial Intelligence. This phenomenon will accelerate exponentially as quantum computing reduces processing times.

It took roughly thirty years for the internet to achieve widespread adoption. Thirty years to interconnect humanity and digitize all the world’s knowledge. Thirty years to create the raw material that will soon enable Artificial Intelligences to evolve and serve humankind. Thirty years is also the time that separated Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press from the heart of the Renaissance. What’s unfolding today is of that magnitude: the dawn of a new Renaissance, propelled by an unparalleled scientific and technological revolution.

The implications of generative AI’s emergence are staggering. Countless professions will soon be transformed. Our educational systems will need rethinking: in the future, the real skill won’t be so much in writing, drawing, or coding, but in being able to interface and interact with Artificial Intelligences to harness their potential. Monopolies will be challenged, starting perhaps with Google, whose search engine might soon seem obsolete in the face of the paradigm shift underway.

The great powers of the twenty-second century will be those that have mastered and tamed Artificial Intelligences. The United States is well on its way. Europe, with strong political will, can still meet the challenge. But time is running out.

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