Helga Nowotny at Wired Next Fest 2022: "The future is uncertain, but uncertainty is a value"

Helga Nowotny at Wired Next Fest 2022: The future is uncertain, but uncertainty is a value

Helga Nowotny at Wired Next Fest 2022

The future of democracy, but more generally of all humanity, also passes through the future of artificial intelligence and its specific branch, that of predictive algorithms. Helga Nowotny, emeritus professor of scientific and technological studies at ETH Zurich, emeritus president of the European Research Center and between the leading experts in artificial intelligence.

Nowotny has recently published a book on the subject: The Machines of God - Power, freedom and control in the age of predictive algorithms. in which you explore the paradox linked to these systems.

“The reason why lately I have concentrated on predictive algorithms is simple: since the dawn of humanity predicting what will happen has always been one of the obsessions. Now these algorithms may have a real idea of ​​how the future might unfold, but they are still based on information from the past and have no divinatory powers. The real problem arises when we are convinced that these algorithms instead have a scientific objectivity, pushing us to behave exactly as they predict and losing control of our own future ".

It is therefore necessary to fully understand how this and other technologies influence the time we live in, as has happened for centuries.

“In the beginning it was nature and then the church that defined how we lived the time. Then came industrialization to mark it, with the time of the clock. Now with digitization we arrive in a new layer of the scanning of time, in which the present is compressed: we can occupy it with images and data from the past and the same happens with the future, with works such as video games that make us live infinite possible futures. In order not to be overwhelmed we must be able to face and digest the multiplicity of these dimensions of time ".

And the present we are experiencing is more complex than ever, and requires rethinking concepts that we believed to be pillars of modern humanity, such as that of innovation.

“Before the pandemic, the rhetoric of innovation was based on disruptive technology: politicians loved this expression. Then the disruption really came, but in the form of a virus; from nature, not from technology. Another example of change: we have always thought that innovation went hand in hand with economic growth, but this axiom is now being questioned: after all, how long can one proceed with continued economic growth now that we have clear consequences. from our past actions? We must learn to distinguish what technological innovation and social innovation are. And we must make sure that the two go hand in hand ".

Even the idea we have of progress is no longer what past generations had in mind.

" We always have thought that progress would improve people's lives, but today especially in the middle classes of the Western world it can be clearly observed that the life of current generations will not be better than the previous one. The old idea of ​​progress has finally come to an end, we need to redefine what progress means for the future. It has always been a European concept, but the reality is that we are almost 8 billion and it is no longer possible to ignore it ".

To get out of what appears to be a dead end, science can help, but it must be communicated better to integrate virtuously with the rest of society.

“At the beginning of the pandemic everyone looked to scientists because we were dealing with an unknown virus, and everyone silently observed an international collaboration that worked very good. The next stage was different because it involved making political decisions, with scientists acting as consultants. However, this phase created public doubt about the scientists, and the role of the media contributed, because they arrived unprepared to communicate an ongoing scientific process - for example by inviting two scientists with opposite positions on a talk show. The reality of the facts is that science is organized skepticism: conflicting positions exist and are resolved progressively. We have to better show how science works best, which often has no precise answers, but probabilistic ones and is based on continuous doubts ".

And the advice also applies to the young people present in the room and their approach to science and to experiences.

"Do not take anything for granted, including your own opinions and theories. Check them and if necessary contradict yourself, give yourselves some answers. Draw lessons from your processes and do not be afraid of uncertainty. By embracing it you will discover it. that there are infinite opportunities for you, so many alternative routes you can take ".

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