mardi, mars 5, 2024

The Comb Lab newsletter : What authority is needed in the face of the unprecedented?

Our monthly newsletters have repeatedly highlighted the risks and harm caused by the procrastination of elites – or supposed elites – and ordinary citizens, because it is so difficult to give up the apparent comfort of daily routines and little idiosyncrasies. The perception of the challenges posed by climate change and the loss of biodiversity divides globalised society into three main groups. Some deny the problem and blindly invest in the extractive economy. Others, having endured summer heatwaves and watched tornadoes and fires, see the water flowing from the tap and the shops busy. With the loss of biodiversity nowhere to be seen in their daily lives, they no longer know what to think about the cumbersome issue of climate change. Finally, a third group, victims of atmospheric disasters or simply aware of scientifically validated changes in the biosphere, are painfully aware of the inertia of the dominant system, whose compass remains fixed on very short-term financial or electoral profit.

At the same time, local programmes everywhere are encouraging residents to combine social solidarity with the enhancement of biodiversity and a drastic reduction in pollution. Because maintaining living conditions will not be possible without solidarity, and vice versa.

This brief overview highlights the cognitive dissonance that current generations are experiencing. The disharmony between technical systems and the social organisations of the family, business and, more broadly, contemporary society, is constantly increasing. Political organisations and major international meetings on climate, biodiversity or the oceans are failing ,when they are not giving up, to manage risks in a reasoned way and therefore to unite society in the face of threats.


  • The threat to the habitat of many species, including our own (!), is accelerating. “The melting of the permafrost threatens to release 1,700 billion tonnes of CO2 sequestered in the form of organic matter, double the total CO2 that makes up the current greenhouse effect on the planet. »1
  • Drilling currently underway in the Norwegian mountains is a cause for concern. Indeed, “the permafrost in the Svalbard valleys seems to act as an effective seal, acting as a ‘cryogenic lid’, preventing the methane at depth from escaping into the atmosphere, while the mountainous areas form much less solid barriers. Despite more than 50 years of drilling, this is the first study to systematically analyse the amount of methane at the base of the Svalbard permafrost. At present, there is no clear estimate of how much methane is currently escaping from the Arctic permafrost. There are simply too many unknowns. “2

These few lines highlight three key elements: non-rational inertia, peril and unknowns. They in turn mobilise two fundamental principles: decision and responsibility. Hence the crucial question: what authority will initiate a genuine policy to halt the destruction of living conditions for a multitude of interdependent biological organisms, including the human species?

It could be a political authority if its legitimacy (or tyranny) allows it to do so, a financial authority if its immediate interests benefit from it, or a purely rational decision imposed on the circles of power and on administrations by one or other of the multiple artificial intelligence systems, thereby devaluing the role of the scientific community as whistleblower. In other words, procrastinating on ending extractivism is exacerbating the environmental challenges and posing unprecedented problems of ethical governance.

Alexei Grinbaum writes about machines that generate written or spoken language: “Governing also means governing computer code. In the digital city, the transformation of the citizen into a user, of the rational individual into a digital individual, is changing society profoundly, altering the meaning of democracy as well as of any other political system”.

“Bring together a Digital Senate to redefine citizenship? Too late! The decline of mathematical education and the general lack of computer skills have permanently turned our political representatives into laymen who, like all users, are subject to the power of code”.3

In the midst of the climate and environmental crisis, with our living conditions under threat, the question of sharing individual free will and collective decisions with non-carnal calculators producing language they don’t understand raises fundamental moral and ethical questions. The computing speed of the machine destroys the capacity of the human brain to bring together in time the elements that make up an informed decision, whatever the area under consideration. So who has the final say in deciding an environmental policy that will guarantee the planet’s continued habitability?

Comb Lab postulates that the truly historic nature of the period we are living through offers an exciting, if unprecedented and adventurous, opportunity to mobilise the collective intelligence of human beings, locally and globally, with the help of AI, to put an immediate stop to non-rational investment and procrastination and invent today the world to come, with the type of society that will fit it.

Let’s hope that the moral and ethical issues raised by the emergence of non-corporeal conversational agents will spur us on to contribute to the solution. Failing that, the autonomous machine, though devoid of meaning, will fascinate and exacerbate the problems of the century. If the stimulus proves powerful enough, reason enlightened by collective intelligence will finally take over from addiction to short-term gratification alone.

1 Source UP Magazine 14 12 2023.

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2 Ditto

3 Alexei Grinbaum Paroles de machines, Dialoguer avec une IA HumenSciences 2023.

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