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

I can speak from personal knowledge. Pressing for usage of state-of-the-art technology has been an essential part of my public struggle, over the last decades, for the modernization of France. But let’s take only the last, most crucial, example: the computer-literacy program of the World Computer Center. A plan for thousands of workshops, equipped with personal computers, linked to data banks, in every city, every district, every village, open to all. The conflict—over which I resigned, in March, from my executive responsibilities—was precisely on the choice of technology. The establishment insisted that a “cheap computer,” of the games type, with an 8-bit microprocessor would be good enough—that at least it would stimulate interest. I disagreed. Since France is lagging behind, the only chance for our population—and our economy—to catch up is to choose, right away, the latest technology, which happens to be the 32-bit professional microcomputer. We should let people have these tools so they can really be trained, or even better, train themselves toward real jobs—and not simply be “amused.” In two personal letters to President Mitterrand, I asked what our goal is: to sell French computers as they are, and so improve the bottom line of industrial corporations, or make France modern and attractive for investment, with a well-trained and literate population?. Itake the example of France because it is there that I have seen this dilemma at first hand. But the same principle applies to any other country. Technology that is even slightly outmoded will increase the gap between developed and underdeveloped countries. It is a waste of resources, of energy, of hope. There can be no second-class populations any more— unless we want to run the risk of a rapid return to neocolonialism, with all its poison, its potential for upheavals, revolts, explosions. FB: Most people in the West think of the "computer revolution" in terms of what we have today, essentially desk-top computers used for word processing, spread sheet calculation, and data base management. You obviously mean something more by the term. JJSS: The technology that is driving the revolution consists of three main components: personal computers, communication links between them, and data bases. It is the individual’s access to independent computer power—not a terminal hooked up to a mainframe—that marks the beginning of this new era, one that will ultimately affect every aspect of human life, not just word processing or financial calculation. I would define a true personal computer as one that a person can learn to use in a few hours and that is supplied with adequate software. These types of powerful instruments will become cheaper, portable, and easier to use over the next two years, bringing computer technology to more and more people throughout the world. The second key technological component are the interactive networks that connect computers, allowing individual users to communicate with each other and to link up with data banks—the third main component. These networks make the power of the personal computer unlimited. Another new development, affecting individuals and their jobs, is expert systems—new software that uses artificial intelligence techniques to enable users to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks. True expert systems are starting to be developed. For example, Schlumberger, a French oil company, has been experimenting on using expert systems in oil exploration. To create such systems, they take a professional who has explored for oil all over the world for 25 years and is on the verge of retirement, and interview him for months on end. All the information he has accumulated in widely different situations is systematized and formatted onto software that can be carried around on a personal computer. A young engineer, sent to explore for oil in some distant location, could have this software on hand to help him in making decisions. In effect, the computer gives him an on-site expert assistant with a lifetime of experience and knowledge. Fred Branfman: When you suggest the computer revolution can eventually transform more than writing or business, what do you mean exactly? Can you give some examples? Jean Jaques Servan-Schreiber: Agriculture. Recently, the Japanese Minister of Science and Technology visited our World Computer Center. He asked our experts for their estimates of how many tomatoes one tomato plant could produce with the help of intensive agricultural techniques, including computer- assisted regulation of heat, light, and water input. The top estimate from the audience was 500 to 600 tomatoes. The Minister responded that the output had reached 12,000 tomatoes from one plant. We have already applied computer systems to cattle-raising. These systems monitor the cattle, telling the farmer when a particular cow or steer needs special attention to its health or feeding. So instead of checking each head of cattle himself, the farmer intervenes only when the computer notifies him of a particular problem. This technology can increase by ten times the number of cattle that one farmer can personally take charge of. The World Center sent teams of French experts to Carnegie-Mellon University last summer to study artificial intelligence so they can create more expert systems to help farmers around the world develop such agricultural techniques. This can become a new world industry. Computers are also revolutionizing education. When computer and telecommunications networks are sufficiently developed, the lectures, research, and new findings of important intellectuals and academics can be made available to students around the world. Interactive systems may further faciltate the dispersal of knowledge and expertise. Students in classrooms around the United States, for example, could have the opportunity to learn from a Nobel Laureate in Pittsburgh, or Tokyo. A field on which the computer revolution will have a great impact is health care. If there is one collective duty that a nation has, it’s to care for the health of its citizens. While private entities can and should contribute, providing health care to everyone is ultimately the responsibility of the community. Health care is tremendously expensive, as we all know. In the United States, the federal government has been cutting more and more health programs in its effort to trim the budget deficit. France has followed the opposite course, which has its own problematic results: France's social welfare budget is now far too large, at a level of spending we cannot maintain. But computer-based expert systems, of the type we discussed earlier, could revolutionize medicine, providing better health care at much less cost. The goal is not to eliminate doctors but to help them use their time more efficiently. This process of using computers to advance health care has already started. Mitterrand has singled out medicine as the most important field to which the computer revolution should be applied. We have begun to create a national network of artificial intelligence laboratories to develop expert systems. Eventually this technology will assist not only doctors, but also patients who, with the help of computers, may be able to take an increasingly active role in monitoring their own health and diagnosing their own illnesses. FB: How do you respond to the charge that your vision is rather arid and technological, that the computer revolution cannot change society because of basic human nature? We were told, for example, that television was going to transform society. Today, we find society pretty similar to what it was 50 years ago before the invention of television. JJSS: Television has been an important technical invention, which has brought much knowledge to children, helped bring cultures closer together, and so forth. But its impact and development have been limited by its centralized nature, which led to its domination by commercial interests, and by its total lack of interaction with its audience. To watch TV is essentially passive, not creative. The computer revolution, by contrast, is decentralized, and gives individuals the opportunity to take control of much of their lives in a way that has not been possible before. The computer revolution can decrease the amount of boring, repetitive work people have to do, helping them transform unchallenging jobs into more rewarding and creative employment. And, more importantly, people can be freed to spend more time discovering their own gifts, increasing their interactions with other individuals—both of their society and of different cultures—and pursuing knowledge and learning for its own sake. What is arid and technological is not Clinton St. Quarterly 15