While technological innovations such as the internet have transformed our daily lives, the term can be used in a broader sense. It can take on different forms, be it political innovation, such as the relatively recent adoption of a capitalist business model in China, or cognitive innovation, such as the USA dedicating its monetary policy to keeping inflation down during the 1980s. Both transformed the global economic system, and today it is technological innovation's turn to drive exponential change.
The philosopher Luc Ferry, innovation specialist and France's former Minister for Youth, National Education and Research, has taken a special interest in this theme. He discussed this with Christophe Donay, the Chief Strategist and Head of Asset Allocation and Macroeconomic Research at Pictet Wealth Management, at its innovation event in Geneva.
They both focused on a rarely discussed influence on innovation: the transhumanist project. Born in the USA some 20 years ago, this field of research is funded by major technology companies, such as Google, to the tune of billions of dollars. It is based on a quest to improve humans through artificial intelligence.
Every entrepreneur should ask him or herself, ‘What can Uberize me?’ ” Luc Ferry
'Artificial intelligence is the engine of the third industrial revolution,' says Ferry. 'Through AI, non-professionals can "Uberize" themselves and compete with the professionals.
'Take Air BnB, for example, which is composed of zero professionals. Air BnB's valuation on the stock market is $32 billion. So, every entrepreneur should ask him or herself, "What can Uberize me?"'
According to Ferry, transhumanism is articulated around three basic ideas. Firstly, it seeks to develop medicine which improves humans, rather than simply healing them.
The second goal is to increase human longevity. Calico, a biotechnology company founded by Google, is dedicated to precisely this. Tests have already been carried out on mice, whose healthy lifespan was extended by 30% through genome modification in the embryo.
Artificial Intelligence is the engine of the third industrial revolution” Luc Ferry
Finally, according to transhumanists, it is now time to tackle inequalities of nature and to correct, in the embryo, genetic errors such as cystic fibrosis. Nature is both amoral and unjust and should be fought against in much the same way as we tackle flu, for example.
The by-product of these developments is the rapid improvement of artificial intelligence, which is set to transform both our work and home lives.
As Donay puts it: 'The development of artificial intelligence will impact on every job, to differing degrees. Some artisanal jobs will be seriously affected. Jobs involving complex systems and interactions will be supported by the artificial intelligence, and this is the complementary side of AI”
According to Ferry and Donay the technological 'industrial revolution' will last through to 2040, bringing together the internet, intelligent materials such as graphene, so-called ‘big data’, renewable energy, biotechnology, robotics and revolutionary transport systems.
What will we humans look like in this brave new world?”
And what will we humans look like in this brave new world? If current research into human-machine hybridisation keeps moving forward at the current rate, it will have more in common with science fiction than life as we know it.
A German company, Retina Implant, has already succeeded in developing an electronic chip that, grafted behind the retina of blind subjects, gives them partial sight by stimulating their brains, while the biotech company CARMAT has developed an artificial heart.
So, take some time to enjoy the world as it exists, because slowly but surely it is undergoing the most profound change.
'There is a phase in which these great innovations destroy the former world,' concludes Ferry, 'but it takes a long time.'