You must read the interview of Barack Obama by the head of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito, published by the prestigious American technology magazine Wired. From our side of the Atlantic, this long discussion has a lot of surprises: the head of state masters debates that we believed were reserved to a small sphere of technology enthusiasts. Barack Obama appears sufficiently at ease here to play around with codes and cultural references usually made by the geekier among us. This is surprising and above all allows us to measure the gap between two ways of “doing” politics.
At the moment when the French political debate takes words such as “Uberization” or the “start-up ecosystem” as the pinnacle of modernity, a future ex-head of state riffs with an executive from MIT on the issues of artificial intelligence, philosophy on power and the control of machines, norms, genders... In France, the fundamental difference between the right-wing candidates rests on the size of the falsehoods they will have to use to slash the expenses of a state that has grown excessively large out of necessity. Meanwhile, Obama examines the role of the state and the extent of research investment. To give you an idea of how much, it is estimated that the American government could invest $80 billion in artificial intelligence research. Whether to a greater or lesser extent, this is what the right wing intends to cut in the budget…
The differences don’t stop there. Do our politicians with the most enthusiasm for technology fantasize about GAFA?* The American leader muses on the power of internet giants, the internet in general, the role of the state in the 21st century, new forms of work, new threats… What a huge gulf between these two worlds!
When completing his inventory, we must recognize that Obama knew to lead his country, during his eight years in power, into further technological development. In 2008, when he won the presidential elections, social networks did not hold the same place that they do now in our daily lives. Google wasn’t even 10 years old, Facebook and Twitter were barely three years old, Snapchat, Uber and Instagram had not even been born, etc. If this interconnected world has not brought us all the benefits it promised us, these past eight years have brought the United States to the brink of a constant revolution, the edges of which we can only guess.
And what about France? Our politicians are best at musing on our Gallic roots and explaining the coherence of their prior actions. Whose fault is this? The journalists who prefer to interrogate them on what they see in the rearview mirror than on the world’s future? Or the politicians who recognize, with disconcerting pride, their “37 years in office” (Nicolas Sarkozy, Thursday evening during the primary debate).
A knowledge of one’s history, analyzing it, is evidently a constant necessity. As is admitting to mistakes. But if we need to know how to respond to the worries of the present, we must find new perspectives. Where are they in French political debate? And who would provide them with Obama’s enthusiasm? Nowhere and nobody. The candidates must therefore read this interview. As should journalists. There is no shame in learning how the world’s future is drawn and how we discuss it with our citizens.
*Editor’s note: GAFA is an acronym for the four American technology companies Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.
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