Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 4 | Winter 1985 (Seattle) /// Issue 14 of 24 /// Master# 62 of 73

Trade Wars vs ; Techno-Education 1 A Conversation with Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber By Fred Branfman Illustration by Carl Smool 'J J ean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber is one of the more thoughtful advocates of computer technology. As president of the Paris-based World Center for Microcomputer and Human Resources until his resignation this past spring, Servan- Schreiber devised France’s ambitious computer-literacy program, which will establish computer-learning centers in 36,500 cities and towns across France. He was also instrumental in establishing, and remains active in, the Center’s international program, which works with government agencies and universities in many Third World and industrialized countries. Founder and former editor of L'Express, France’s largest newsweekly. Servan- Schreiber has served as a member of Parliament and as cabinet minister in two governments. He is the author of The American Challenge and The World Challenge. This past spring, he discussed the computer revolution with Fred Branfman, Policy Coordinator for the Center for New Democracy in Washington. rred Branfman: Many Americans regard the computer revolution as a field for scientists, technicians, and futurists. Why is a nonscientist like yourself—one who has spent most of his life in politics, publishing, and writing—devoting so much time to it? Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber: Many believe the computer revolution will dominate the next century. But it will be the next decade. So the time to prepare is now. The computer revolution has often been compared to the Industrial Revolution. This also is inaccurate. The Industrial Revolution did of course usher in a radical change but only in our physical environment. The computer revolution will change the way in which information and knowledge are spread, which will affect the capacity of the individual to create and interact with others. The only real precedent is the invention, five centuries ago, of the printing press. It allowed for the dissemination of knowledge among an ever larger group of people and transformed the world. The computer revolution is the first intellectual revolution in 500 years. It is bound to transform every aspect of the human endeavor—agriculture, industry, the office, medicine, education. To ignore this revolution is to make oneself irrelevant. The nontechnicians are precisely the people who should become more involved in this revolution if it is to be developed for human ends. Every characteristic-creativity, imagination, talent— that makes a human being different from a machine can be enhanced by the computer revolution. It can lead to far more interesting, challenging, humane, and rewarding work than industrial employment. And it will reduce the amount of time people must spend on work per se, allowing more time for creative, artistic, personal pursuits. For this to happen, nonscientists must become involved. FB: The computer revolution began in the United States and many people assume that America will continue to lead the world in its development. How well do you think the United States and the West have been preparing for this revolution? JJSS: Badly. And late. Japan leads the West by several years in industrial development. What has happened to the U.S. auto and machine tool industries—a sort of industrial Pearl Harbor—could soon happen to other leading industries. One major factor in this trend is that Japan has paid close attention to educating its citizens, particularly in science, technology, mathematics, and languages. Over 90 percent of its workers have high school degrees. Its general population is more literate than are the U.S. or European populations. Other Asian nations show potential for the same kind of development we have seen in Japan. The Japanese are already working closely with China. Their first priority now is to develop China, to bring it Japanese technology, to introduce computer literacy—knowledge—as a new tool of development. In fact, China is the one country besides Japan that is most rapidly embracing the computer revolution. The Chinese want to be linked not only to our computer center in Paris, but also to U.S. universities. And unlike Americans, they are not focusing their work with computers at the level of higher education. Instead, they are establishing computer literacy centers that will put personal computers at the disposal of the general population. Because 50 percent of the Chinese population is under 20 years of age, they are quick to learn. They have unlimited potential. They are intelligent, hard-working, and frugal. Austerity to them is not a hardship but a way of life. So by the end of the century, China will be a major technological power. Singapore is another example. The country has no natural resources, but it has educated its citizens. So it has been able to develop into a competitive industrial power with vast financial strength. South Korea has followed a similar path. Asia, then, presents a major challenge to the West. Western nations must rethink their approaches to industry and technology if they are to meet this challenge successfully. I am not in the least hostile toward Japan. In fact, in my country I am considered one of its most ardent supporters. But I do believe that if the Japanese were to win this technological race, everyone would suffer. No nation should dominate other nations. Therefore we have to compete with the Japanese. I believe that America and Europe must work together much more closely if we are to meet one of the greatest challenges in our whole history, the Asian challenge. FB: Why has the Wesf thus far failed to compete successfully? JJSS: The West has made a major strategic error. Computer science has been used primarily to modernize industry through computers, expert systems, robots, etc. As a result, this revolution has begun by displacing workers, creating massive unemployment and disrupting established communities, or shunting workers into low-paid and uncreative jobs. Blinded by these problems, people have come to fear the consequences of the computer revolution instead of moving decisively to exploit its potential. What we have kept ignoring is the capacity of this new technology to develop human creativity. We have barely begun to apply the computer revolution to education, to worker training and retraining programs, to the dissemination of knowledge. This is the step we must now take. We cannot and should not stop the spread of robotics. Our industries will not be competitive without them. But we cannot simply parachute robots into our factories without first ensuring that workers are trained for new employment. Our priorities are wrong. We must first introduce this technology to the people. Then we can apply it successfully to industry. These mistaken priorities have produced upheavals throughout the West. Unemployment in the European community is close to the levels that prevailed in the 1930s, when fascist governments came to power. Nearly 30 million are unemployed; a disproportionate number of these are under 25. This is an extremely dangerous situation—one that could lead to a call for the type of supreme authority represented by fascism. Japan, in contrast, has maintained sensible policies. For example, Toyota, the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, has been steadily robotizing its plants. One might expect this process to involve laying off workers. But Toyota has not done so; instead they retrain workers before they introduce robotics. Japan has low unemployment—around 3 percent—mainly because of this kind of careful attention to human resources. PEOPLE HAVE COME TO FEAR THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE COMPUTER REVOLUTION INSTEAD OF MOVING DECISIVELY TO EXPLOIT ITS POTENTIAL. WHAT WE HAVE KEPT IGNORING IS THE CAPACITY OF THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY TO DEVELOP HUMAN CREATIVITY. FB: Any serious person noting these kinds of trends must ask: will the 21st century be the Asian Century? Is the United States destined to fade, to go the way of Great Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, and Portugal? If not, what must the United States do to respond to the Asian challenge? JJSS: Although I think the Asians are handling this more effectively and lucidly, I still have great confidence in the United States. One of the most vivid memories of my youth, when I trained as a fighterpilot in the United States (the summer in Alabama, the winter in Michigan!), is how effectively America, from a zero starting point, rallied the world in the fight against Hitler. America’s achievements have been and remain immense. But it is important to note that America’s technological successes in World War II and the decades that followed were possible only because the United States developed its human resources in the 1930s. Franklin Roosevelt saved, really saved, America’s society and economy by putting people to work in massive public works projects. Today the United States needs another kind of New Deal, a new New Deal that will employ U.S. citizens to build the new infrastructure of the computer age—not automobile highways but fiber-optics highways, data banks, computer workshops, and telecommunication systems. Powerful, well-connected personal computers should be made widely available, so that U.S. citizens anywhere can connect with these new networks of information and communication. Public computer literacy must be the priority. Because the United States and Europe cannot compete with the cheaper labor of the Third World, we can prosper only by reordering our priorities so as to fully develop our human and intellectual resources. U.S. universities can play a major role in this process. They are developing superb learning systems that employ computer technology; they should now work to give more people access to these systems. Just as Europe was led into the Renaissance by its universities, so today U.S. universities can lead the way in the knowledge revolution, through computers. The Asia challenge will be the main impetus for this effort. It is, in fact, the success of Japan in mastering the computer era—in manufacturing better, cheaper, and higher quality products— that will force us to mobilize our resources and channel them into these priorities. But it is critical that the West respond to the Asia challenge without lapsing into nationalism, xenophobia, and protectionism. This is particularly true of the United States, which is so large and prosperous that it often considers itself the most important nation in the world. It is not— no one country is, any more. The next 15 years will make this evident, as other countries continue to develop and become as creative and prosperous as the United States. There is no place in today’s world for any sense of national superiority that leads to imperialism. The West should treat Japan and the other Asian nations with respect. Our goal should be an equal partnership, in which East and West irrigate the world with their science and creativity without either side seeking domination. The West must develop a partnership with the Asian nations, cooperating with and learning from them just as they have learned from us. All parties must take a broader view of their own self-interests. I believe that Japan can understand this. It * is the reason they are engaging in so many joint ventures—for instance, the General Motors-Toyota plant in Fremont, California. Without this kind of cooperation, world trade-will be choked off by a round of protectionist measures. This would be a Clinton St. Quarterly 13