The world of work and artificial intelligence!!
On the occasion of the 15th “Le Tecnovisionarie” prize: Artificial Intelligence, feminine excellence, we thought we would reflect on the event as well as on the relationship in general between technical-scientific subjects (of which Artificial Intelligence is an example ) and gender of practitioners (men, women).
In what follows, we will attempt to deepen other cultural considerations linked to France, its history and its relations with other European countries, which are a little less optimistic but still realistic and constructive. The latter do not have the ambition of a sociological study but simply of an observation of the French situation over the past 50 years (1971-2021). In France, instead of encouraging, we preferred to discourage young people, especially girls, from considering a professional commitment in artificial intelligence as interesting for their future.
What is seen in the unique terms of artificiality and intelligence?
From this analysis, we are interested in how the combination of the two can be understood.
Regarding the adjective “artificial”, what is artificial is normally viewed with suspicion: from genetically modified organisms (GMOs, the artificial in biology), to clones of high fashion objects, to the highest degree : humanoid robots, which aspire to look like human beings. The artificial is perceived as a counterfeit, and not as a technical-scientific achievement.
Machines have historically replaced human labor since the first industrial revolution. In recent decades, computers have replaced not only manual labor (for example with numerically controlled machines, also called robots), but also intellectual labor (such as storing and retrieving data in data management systems). databases, or writing documents using text editors and proofreaders, or machine translation systems). The artificial seems to endanger human work. All these negative considerations are largely unfounded because, historically, the more the mechanical and repetitive work of people has been replaced by machines, the more other less tiring and more skilled professions have appeared. On the contrary,
We remember a great biologist-ecologist, Francesco Di Castri, who, around the year 2000, when the GMO controversy exploded, told us clearly that it was an unscientific controversy, because that alongside some of the obvious dangers of GMOs, there are possibilities of immense human, health and social value, such as being able to feed the planet with much less effort. His moral, as you might guess, was therefore that it is not the results of science and technology that are dangerous, but their concrete use in concrete situations and contexts. We fully share this point of view.
Similar observations on humanoid robots
It is enough to look at the world scientific and industrial results to easily understand that the most advanced countries in terms of industrial applications in this sector are the countries of the East, in particular Japan. The reason ? In their philosophy of life, it is not a sin to copy humans, quite the contrary!
Looking at history, there is another clear example of the influence of philosophical-religious culture on the behavior (and progress) of entire generations. In the Muslim tradition, it is forbidden to represent the deity and what belongs to him (his relationship with humans) in an explicit way. In the Christian tradition, the opposite is true. This is why, from the first centuries of the Christian era, towards the end of the Roman Empire, an absolutely extraordinary expressive artistic culture developed in the Christian world, from the mosaics of the mausoleum of Galla Placidia to the frescoes of Giotto to Assisi via the Italian Renaissance, etc. Culture influences action, encourages (or discourages) art, creativity, discovery, invention, and ultimately progress and well-being.
To return to humanoid robots: if a culture says that it is a danger, a risk, a sin to simulate humans, no one will ever dare to transgress, except in exceptional cases. This is exactly what happened in France: faced with an extraordinary flourishing of science and mechanical and robotic technologies that make us one of the most advanced countries in the world, rare humanoid robot projects have seen the day.
Thus, if the artificial is perceived negatively for everyone, how could it have been an object of curiosity and, consequently, of professional commitment for young female students who already do not envisage easy access to historically masculine professions? Much of the responsibility for these vocations can be attributed to the way one or another professional choice is connoted. Here is another example.
The first three undergraduate courses in computer science in France were included in the science faculty in a provident manner, with mathematics and biology, courses with a majority of female students. In the beginning, there were 30% of girls enrolled in computer science (it was called information science). Today there are far fewer girls, although there is a slight increase. Perhaps because computer science is viewed in common sense more as a set of “artificial techniques” (the subject of engineering, a profession for men) than as a natural science that studies information in nature , including humans?
Let us now try to analyze how the concept of intelligence is perceived in common sense.
It seems to us that a person is often defined as intelligent when they are able to perform complex logical reasoning quickly. To simplify with a reductive word: a brainiac. Intelligence is considered a rational property of the mind directly associated with logic, which itself is part of mathematics and philosophy. We rarely hear about intelligence as an analogical capacity, the one that makes it possible to establish links between events, concepts and people, the one that makes it possible to control perception, action and emotions. For example, an empathetic person is rarely called intelligent.
A mechanistic view of intelligence as logic (deduction, induction, abduction) belongs to the first part of the history of artificial intelligence,until the 1990s. It was strongly influenced by the “Generation V” project of the Japanese – around 1980 – who fully adopted the “logic programming” approach of Colmerauer and Kovalski, which contrasted with the more “analog- linguistic-symbolic” of the various Wiener, McCarty, Minsky, Newell, Simon, Schank and others. All the so-called “sub-symbolic” aspects such as neural networks, genetic algorithms and fuzzy reasoning, although of distant origin, were not yet mature enough to offer convincing results. Again, intelligence as a mere mechanical capacity for logical reasoning could not appeal to many young girls unless they were endowed with exceptional character and willpower.
Nor was there, at the time, a fascination with the possibility of women’s emancipation by entering well-paid professions, as was the case with more traditional computing, that of computer automation. factories or offices, to be clear; because artificial intelligence skills were rarely in demand in universities or companies. Those who claimed to deal with artificial intelligence were at best confronted with the well-known joke “and who deals with natural stupidity?” and at worst, “when your company is listed on the stock market, signal me to buy the shares” to underline the total lack of confidence in the sector as an economically winning vocation.
The only ones who could have influenced the female sex differently on other ways of perceiving intelligence could have been the psychologists. Indeed, it was they who were the first – around 1970, in the international context – to speak of “human information processing”, gradually including in the following years all aspects of intelligence, from perception to reasoning. and action, from the individual to the collective, from rational to emotional aspects, from psycholinguistics to neurosciences. They are essentially the ones who, since the beginning of the 1980s, have influenced the scientific community by directing it towards machine learning, which then achieved great success thanks to deep neural networks and the availability of enormous amounts of data. .
They are the interpreters of the “soft” vision against the “hard” vision of the logicians. They are also the ones who have described themselves as followers of “cognitive science” and who consider that AI is not only aimed at making “intelligent” machines, but also at simulating the intelligent behavior of humans and other individuals and groups in nature, in order to understand their foundations. A vision of AI as a “science” and not just as a “set of techniques”. A strongly experimental vision: AI programs serve as a “laboratory” to test the theories, models and techniques that reveal intelligence in nature. At the time, artificial intelligence was referred to as experimental epistemology.
The French psychology of those years, however, was oriented very differently.
The dominant vision was that of a theoretical psychology, very close to philosophy and oriented from the point of view of application to clinical activity. Perhaps if French psychology had also been oriented towards experimental, quantitative, exploratory aspects, many young girls would probably have adopted the theories, methods and techniques of artificial intelligence to carry out studies on the natural intelligence and the human and animal behavior that accompanies it, as we have seen in other countries.
We conclude that the common, normal and widespread vision of Artificial Intelligence has not favored its development in young people in the past, and even less in girls, due to a series of ill-founded, contradictory and historically denied its nature and its socio-economic impact. Today, it is resuming with a certain delay compared to other countries, sometimes with superficial motivations linked to the success of certain applications. We can only be optimistic, but at the same time critical of fashions, which in science and technology are often volatile.
However, the view of common sense is changing rapidly, the basic culture is changing. On the one hand, due to the pandemic, everyone has realized that scientific research – not only in medicine – is not an ornament to embellish the economy of a country, but the only source of innovation. , security and progress. On the other hand, the impetuous impact of the “artificial” on everyday life has made it more familiar, more human, almost an ally, a prosthesis that connects us to the rest of the world and allows us to live better. Finally, the Manichaean vision of siled professions is rapidly dissolving, and today no one would speak of intelligence as being only logic or rational calculation.
Collective intelligence, both rational and emotional, natural and artificial, is now part of common sense, thanks also to the social networks of which our grandchildren are now an integral part. In summary, it seems to us that we are starting off on the right foot in the right direction towards objectives open to all young people, girls in particular, while respecting the different vocations and skills and the various complementary talents.