Even in Artificial Intelligence, Darwin remains the driving force

Three hundred thousand years ago, humanity attained the capacity to know itself. In 1712, Thomas Newcomen built a steam engine to prevent coal mines from flooding, the industrial evolution shaped the modern world. Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi enabled sound and radio signals to travel the world, heralding a new era of science and technology.

Hundred twenty years ago we became aware of part of the physical reality of the cosmos. Now, we hand over ‘knowing our selves’ to a new form of intelligent beings, not only to machines! We gave that intelligence the autonomy to improve, to replicate itself and to choose its own targets by rewriting its own code and by hybridization. But our deep human (conflictual) nature and psychology will always have be integrated in these cyborgs, since we are their founding fathers, if we want to survive.

A couple of decades ago, less than 10% of European households had internet, smartphones did not exist. Since then, AI assisted by data-mining became a cyber form of human intuition, acquiring many superhuman abilities. In 2015, the Alpha-Zero computer program developed by Deep Mind owned by Google learned to play go, shogi and chess games at a super-human level in less than 24 hours. Since the nineties and the internet age, hyperintelligence, coined ‘cyborg’ (a human creature with artificially enhanced intelligence and bodily capacities) in the sixties, evolves since at a hallucinating speed, unencumbered by human rules.

Their speed of evolvement will outstrip anything we can imagine. Defining their own goals, they will not necessarily take ours into account. The genie is out of the bottle. But AI will always be nevertheless a product of the Darwinian evolution, an intentional selection overarching the natural and epigenetic ones. Human natural evolution is not a revolution, it loses less time and creates less upheaval then hyperspeed AI. The latter shows no signs of developing ‘general intelligence, even if it’s unbeatable at games. Silently it creeps up our spine and modifies parameters, unknown to us, uncontrollable by humans. The new cyborgs will not look like us, not think like us. Will they one day achieve ‘singularity’ (self-awareness)? We have to keep some of our long acquired advantages such as the speed of application of information. Humans function not only on the speed of data but on the speedy implementation of novelty. In a crisis, action is required immediately, aided not by reflection but by immediate response based on deep rooted intuition. Who will control them and how?

All enlightened successful capitalists, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, benefited from brilliant early strategic advantages, often innovations by others which they exploited cleverly. This moneymaking gave Bill and Melinda Gates time and money to pursue philanthropist purposes. But technical superiority rarely lasts without ongoing innovation, as Nokia and Ericsson experienced lately. Continuous research and innovation are the drivers of shareholder-capitalism in a democracy.

If ever economy is a science, it serves mostly to explain the catastrophes and triumphs of the past. In the real world, profitability always comes first. Therefore, entrepreneurs must have a better sense of urgency than their competitors. Trade only lives in the present, projecting the future. Yesterday is irrelevant. That’s probably why the science of economy learns so little about the past, when it proposes theoretical reforms. The fact that capitalists should be more responsible ethically, socially and environmentally might be attractive, but dividends are the main drivers of management and investment decisions.

In Asia and Africa, there are hardly democracies, but recently, investment soared twice or three times more than in old Europe. In our expensive social security system, workers and staff want more pay, customers want cheaper prices and investors seek the highest returns. They invest mostly outside old Europe. Moral perfection and local economic growth are hard to achieve in these conditions. So in a global liberal economy animated by new technology many are left behind. Slowly, environmental and social awareness becomes a marketing tool in the affluent Western world.

But how much will the consumer want to pay more for the same, environmentally labelled ‘fair-trade’ product? Emission-reducing measures are in need of a careful analysis of cost and efficiency, otherwise the greening of the Western economies will be unsustainable and over-expensive.

Rapid technological change ought to have a positive effect on productivity, but this transformation will make many redundant before new jobs are created. This new economy will need highly skilled workers. In 2040 we will look at the way we live now as quaintly old-fashioned. Innovation, technical convergence, free-trade and economic openness could be the ingredients of a rising prosperity; but will they?

The populist claims for deglobalization and protectionism are rife and contagious. Sanctions, taxes and closed-borders are excellent remedies to balance unfair trade relationships, but only in the short run. And only for the powerful military nations, able to take the stand. “Europe, how many divisions?” Stalin would have asked. Today, a New York property tycoon represents a majority of Americans, tired of being ruled by East-coastal elites, ignoring their simple daily concerns. Jobs, jobs, jobs and to dream again of a great future is the new utopia. To everybody’s surprise, the American president does what he promised during his campaign. Everybody is shocked, this was never done before.

President Trump questions rightfully twenty years of Occidental-Chinese uneven trade relationship, the mandatory transfer of Western technology to Chinese state firms and the non-respect of intellectual property and human rights in China. It still clamps down hard on all internal dissent, while bullying Hong Kong and Taiwan. But he knows that import taxes cannot be successful in the long term. In the end we all have to collaborate in a global world, it’s the only pathway to long-term prosperity. A lot of arm-wrestling is needed to reach a new power balance with the Chinese and the American president takes it up. Since we are all convinced that he likes a good fight, he is believable in his stand-off against the other macho powerbrokers. But even a longstanding ally such as Europe is taken on without mercy. Trumps complaints about Europe are ‘the pot who calls the kettle black’. Trump aims angrily at the European Central Bank director, Mr Draghi’s comments: ‘pushing the Euro down against the Dollar, making it unfairly easier to compete against the USA’, but leans himself heavily on the Federal Reserve.

Sneering on Twitter is easy, successful policymaking is complicated. President Trump’s international politics are based on ‘linkage’. The first aim is to force China to open its markets. The second part is even more important: technology and to fight Huawei. Europe is not inclined to take part in this dispute, unless it is forced to. The third is to rebalance Middle-East relations while reducing Iran’s influence by isolating it. Europe is bound by its nuclear agreement with Iran. Qatar, Israel, Syria and Iran have the greatest natural gas reserves in the world, polluting much less than oil. Israel became part of the Arab coalition against Iran, unfortunately for the Palestinians and Hamas.

This all should benefit to the American economy in the long term. Europe can only hope to win also something out of it, but not much. Trump’s ambition for re-election in 2020 induces a timing for an agreement with China in that year, not before. On the G20 summit president Trump agreed to restart trade talks. American firms can sell equipment to Huawei, its products still seen as a national security issue. For the same reason oil prices can’t rise before the election. Therefore war in the Street of Ormuz is unlikely, unless by accident.

And what about America’s already swollen deficit? Nevertheless, the American economy is booming, employment is at an absolute high. An oil crisis could ruin this. Economic sanctions are war by other means. Tensions mount in many places, in the Chinese Sea, Iran, the Middle East etc. The Romans said: “To keep the peace, be prepared for war!”. A military dispute will create serious long term damage, but uneven trade relations do the same. Cowardice against Hitler during the three years before 1940 only delayed the war, at the price of many more lives later on.

Chinese Communist State Capitalism is still not able to impose its views and its disrespect of human rights on the world, but it aims at it. Hong Kong experiences it now. The Little Rocket Man of North Korea is only a Chinese manufactured toy. Manipulated at the right moment, it obliges the West to give in on some of the Chinese demands. The Chinese empire is fascinating by its culture, impressive by the way it created progress for the hundreds of millions of right minded communists since 1980 and lethal for Human Rights since always.

Ask the Chinese Tibetans, Christians and Uighurs how life is there, they love it! Through its success against Communism, democracy created its own decline. When people take their freedom for granted, seduced by populists proposing miraculous solutions, they forget what happened 80 years ago. They vote for simple illusionary solutions proposed by macho politicians. They forget that two thirds of the world lives in difficult conditions, most of them in dictatorships, where a personality cult veils the true nature of a dirty kleptocratic ‘nomenklatura’.

Optimism is due, never was life better for so many, even if much is still to achieve. Extreme poverty is reducing almost everywhere in the world. Life expectation is going up. New technology creates new opportunities. High connectivity and reshoring will make services more tradeable: look at Uber, B&B, Booking.com, etc. Customizable products will be manufactured closer to the place where they will be consumed through 3-D printing. These flows of digital information will reduce pollution and transport cost.

The aim of zero greenhouse gas emissions, no plastic, no petrol cars, clean electricity production from carbon-free sources and existing buildings retrofitted to save energy is urgent to keep the earth as a self-controlling entity, even if it is not certain that storms, floods and other plagues are caused by human activity. Global warming is a fact, not a product of the fertile imagination of leftists. It will need a coordinated strategy on a global level. Europe does a lot, but the rest of the world follows reluctantly.

European nation-states all have a rich history. They learned a lot from the many wars they fought with their neighbors. They know now that peaceful cooperation is the only solution. After 1945, exhausted fading European empires created a framework in which they can prosper, believing in progress and in a common collective identity. Decision making with 28 nations is not simple. The project is far from finished. We lack a common defense and foreign affairs policy, otherwise Russians, Chinese and Americans will ‘Divide et Impera’, tackle us one by one. The European Union is one of the greatest achievements in history, even if the United Kingdom leaves. The adverse consequences of blundering into a ‘no-deal Brexit’ will not only bring temporarily empty shelves, queues at Dover and a bad time for British farmers.

It means a heavy setback for UK trade, lasting for decades. The overdimensioned ego of a character such as Boris Johnson going for a World Trade Organization (WTO)-Brexit could favor the slip into such a serious long-term damage by accident, believing that GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) article 24 would spare the UK from EU tariffs. Notwithstanding the clear hardline strategy of the European Commission, an amended withdrawal deal is due end of October solving the problem of the Irish backstop.

The president of the European Council Donald Tusk offered already a ‘Canada +++’free-trade deal, the UK declined it. It will be hard to obtain a better offer. The Irish border could be monitored in the same way as border controls between EU and non-EU members of EEA, except that there would be no fixed controls on the Irish border. The European single market includes countries inside and outside the EU, having signed the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, such as Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Switzerland. The UK while leaving, could participate as a non-EU member ‘provisionally’ in it, as Croatia does since May 2014. The UK would regain control of its agriculture policy and fishing rights.

But to think that the UK can leave without a deal and then sit down to talk about trade is an illusion. First has to be dealt with the amount the UK owes to the EU when they were still a member. After that, EU and UK citizen’s rights and the Irish backstop will come upon the table.

47 countries belong to the Council of Europe (CoE) in Strasbourg, founded in 1949, a Pan-European defense organization promoting democracy, justice and human rights. The CoE has 324 members representing the different countries, plus 47 judges, a secretary general and a commissaire for human rights. All countries signed the 1950 Convention on Human Rights.

The European Court for Human Rights (CEDH), constituted in 1959, is there to sanction the non-respect of human rights and justice. In 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and the Russian military intervention in the East of Ukraine the CoE had suspended the voting rights of the 18 Russian representatives and proclaimed sanctions. Since then, Russia captured in November 2018, 24 Ukrainian marines and Gazprom did not respect the judgment of the CEDH in which it had to pay 3 billion dollars to the Ukrainian Naftogaz.

Russia was condemned by the Maritime Court of Justice of the UNO, but did not release the marines. Russia does not respect international law and treaties. The ‘Russian affair’ illustrates the difficult relationship between democratic values and ‘Realpolitik’. Business has to go on! France and Germany want to normalize relations with the Russian Federation and to abolish the sanctions, even if Russia did not make any concession. Obviously, military intimidation is the new rule; treaties only engage those who believe in them. Europe needs to talk to Russia again and live alongside them, with a mingling of fear and fascination.

Even if most of us reject a moral and political equivalence with them, since they are low upon personal freedom. But, all dominant nations share moral failures today. Russians remain embittered by their 1990’s humiliation and accuse the West of hypocrisy for its denunciation of Russian foreign policy. The CIA’s manipulation of foreign elections is not much different of these of Russian intelligence agencies. Otherwise, Russia will go on pressing mercilessly to recover parts of its lost Russky Mir empire, requiring hegemony over its own sphere of influence.

And this with the consent of the greatest part of the Russian population; few rulers are locally as popular as the Russian president still is, even if it declined lately. The CoE opened talks with the Russian delegation to normalize the situation and allowed 18 Russian delegates voting rights without even having to apologize for the mayhem their country created. The Ukrainian and Georgian conflicts have indeed to be solved by negotiations, but here Europe lowered its pants on demand. The Russian Federation is culturally too close to Europe not to be in a good economic and diplomatic relationship with the EU. Otherwise Russia will turn to China, in the ongoing power struggle with the USA. The Georgians and the Ukrainians are upset and claim rightfully that ‘Europe committed treason to its human values, as it did in München in 1938, and again in 1945 while giving in to Stalin’. The coming months will be of strategic importance.

The feeble measures taken in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis unleashed a populist anti-elite revolt everywhere. The populist temptation can only be solved when traditional political parties show enlightened leadership by taking into account the people’s needs, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in the 30’s with his ‘New Deal’. In an exclusive interview in the Financial Times (28/6/2019), Vladimir Putin claims with disdain in the face of international criticism that: ‘the rise of Populism signals the end of Liberalism, having outlived its purpose, as the public turns against immigration, open borders and multiculturalism’.

He noted the ‘breakdown of the international rules based order, the rise of China, the end of the liberal ideology and the prospect of improved relations with the UK’. He singles out American unilateralism in the tensions created by the tariff war, in the Gulf and in Venezuela. Moscow has to protect at all cost its sphere of influence by viscerally opposing NATO’s eastward extension. The Russian aid to the ‘so-called’ popular revolutions in parts of Georgia and Ukraine is explained as ‘necessary to protect the 25 million ethnic Russians living outside the Russian Federation’.

Vladimir Putin has long harbored suspicions of western conspiracies to undermine his regime. About the ‘Skripal Affaire’, he says: ‘We need to just leave it alone and let security agencies deal with it. But, spies who betrayed their county and traitors must be punished, zero tolerance!’. He can’t deny that the weakness of his regime lies in the slow growth of the economy, higher taxes, increase in pension age and years of falling incomes, which make him less popular. The EU and US sanctions against Russia since 2014 cut it off increasingly from Western capital markets and create problems for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting it to Germany.

Tensions built up everywhere in this global power struggle. An excessive demographic expansion is the main reason of environmental problems. Would cyborgs and intelligent robots behave less aggressively than ordinary humans? Would they decide that less human presence is the solution to climate change? Nothing is less certain since we created them. Natural evolution is based on the elimination of the weakest, an unforgiven competition between the most able to adapt, only moderated by the respect for human rights and culture. Will robots respect human rights? We can’t take democracy and human rights for granted. We have to fight for it every day, not lowering our pants. Economic liberalism and political freedom are not obsolete, but essential tools for happiness if their excesses are under control.

Prof Dr. Dr. HC Jan DE MAERE