Excellence and impertinence: these are the values that prevail at Presans.
- Excellence: Presans puts a strong emphasis on science, industry and technology, as well as expertise to deliver value.
- Impertinence: Presans always takes a fresh look at problems and does not hesitate to shake up the established consensus.
Where do we find these two values in the past decade? We wanted to ask the question around us. But also, of course, we wanted to ask ourselves. This is how I, for one, would answer it, based on the fact that the digital transformation has played a major role during this period. I see more in this transformation than a simple irruption of BtoB computing means in the BtoC sphere. The excellence and impertinence of the 2010’s, I see them in the disruptions brought by the Internet. Moreover, the potential of disruptions from the Internet seems to me far from being exhausted.
Before embarking on this discussion, I would like to make it clear that by the Internet, I mean the telecommunications network stemming from ARPANET, as well as its email, web, chat, file sharing, etc. applications, which everyone knows. I will also look at various extensions or possible developments of the Internet, based in particular on a fact sheet published on open-organization.com, without claiming to exhaust the question.
An excellent discovery
Let’s start with the disruptions that have taken place over the past decade. One of them has its origins in the immense success of the social networks that emerged in the mid-2000s. Among them, Twitter in particular lends itself well to the discovery of interesting new features. It is a network that is at least as much thematic as it is social. And it is in any case through it that, towards the end of 2009, I discovered the existence of Presans. Which is hardly surprising: entrepreneurs, especially if their projects involve open innovation, have every interest in being discovered. As a result, they love social networks1.
What the founder of Presans, Albert Meige, will quickly understand, and explain in one of the first articles of this blog, is that from the point of view of social networks, researchers do not work at all like entrepreneurs. The former create the technological bricks that entrepreneurs combine2.
Building a social network of researchers to foster open innovation is not obvious given the low interest of researchers in such a network. However, what is important to Presans are the scientific, technological and industrial experts. What will be built will not be a social network, but a data platform to identify expert profiles.
Later on, this idea will be generalized through a more detailed analysis of the field covered by the notion of on-demand talent, one of the five components of an open organization. It is only in the course of the projects that a complex expertise platform such as Presans can become a social network of experts, such with the Presans Fellows.
The political impertinence of networks
Let’s change the register, let’s talk politics. In the middle of the last decade, Presans started to gather the industrial innovation community around new questions related to the interactions between digital transformation and society, understood in all its facets: economic, artistic, political. In the political arena, social networks have been particularly disruptive since the end of the 2000s with Obama’s innovative presidential campaign. Then came the Arab Spring, in an enthusiastic atmosphere, at least initially. With the election of Donald Trump, the atmosphere becomes charged with mistrust and suspicion. Nearby, Facebook has contributed a lot to the emergence of the “Yellow Vests” movement in France. It is difficult to know whether social networks are today a valuable aid to an open and democratic society or, on the contrary, an extension of the domain of piracy.
From the perspective of the key to reading the open organization developed by Presans, the problem consists basically in keeping within the system a right to impertinence, sometimes salutary. And it is basically the same logic that corresponds to the concerns raised by the development of artificial intelligence, particularly through its applications using data produced by social networks: let us be careful not to destroy any principle of freedom within the system. Let us note in the same vein that the years 2010 have also brought to light yet another dark side of social networks: don’t some of these networks work with intelligence agencies, as suggested in particular by the files sent to the press by Edward Snowden?
In the framework of this post, I will leave aside the rigorous articulation of these different phenomena and will content myself with posing in a cavalier manner that, faced with these multiple risks of drift, two types of response are possible, which can be combined together: on the one hand, all approaches that aim to operate a decentralization, or rather a re-decentralization of the Internet and its applications. On the other hand, all efforts to reappropriate the Internet and its applications by state actors.
The Internet was originally conceived as a decentralized network, but its success with the general public is based on centralization around a small number of large computers. Such a configuration generates economies of scale and therefore economically profitable activities, but also leads to user dependence on these mainframes. This dependence is not in keeping with the spirit of freedom that drives many Internet players. Our technology fact sheet on the Decentralized Internet discusses current approaches to reducing this dependency. The quest for immutability underlying all these approaches, of which Bitcoin is the most famous, can be interpreted as the project of a radical form of impertinence. It derives part of its dynamism from the desire to contribute to the establishment of a stable monetary infrastructure in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis. But, more broadly speaking, the underlying motivation for these projects stems from the desire to break free from the cumbersome existing institutional framework. The deep motivation is the exit of the system through technological acceleration, notably towards transhuman horizons, or, why not, Martians.
Towards sovereign social networks
State sovereignty pre-exists the Internet and social networks. States are questioning themselves when they see their citizens, that is to say: their subscribers, subscribe to the killer apps of the algocratic platforms. For those who might be disgusted by this abstruse terminology, I’m talking about the services offered by the IT titans GAFAM3 and BATX4.
How to better impose these activities? Should the major platforms, which have become too dominant, simply be dismantled? Or on the contrary, should we act to encourage the emergence of equivalent platforms, but constituted in common, more in line with the general interest?
Sovereignty in the digital domain is at the heart of Emmanuel Chiva’s reflections on the future of military technologies, formulated during the DYSTOPIA 2019 event. What will these networks of the future look like? Will they still be based on the Internet as we know it? What technological infrastructures will they rely on?
In a context of a return to competition between major powers that began in 2014, it is interesting to note that Russia now announces that it has an Internet-type network capable of operating autonomously. On the Chinese side, a strategic advantage could result from the lead taken in new generation (5G) telecommunications infrastructures, as well as in the construction of quantum computers, allowing the use of higher level encryption/decryption. In particular, the quantum computer could remove the inviolability of transactions from existing crypto-currencies, undermining the project of building institutions, monetary or otherwise, that operate without reliance on trust. Is Europe prepared to meet these challenges?
It should be noted that the future of the Internet infrastructure includes a sharp increase in the number of satellites in orbit around the Earth, particularly in the form of constellations of small satellites. All this is taking place in a space environment that is also potentially exposed to military intervention.
Conclusion: from hindsight to foresight
Will the Internet of the 2020s also be a factor of excellence and impertinence in our lives? Will the killer app of the industrial Internet emerge in the next ten years? Will the European sovereign cloud emerge? Will the Internet become more centralised? More regulated? Or more decentralised? Will the sovereign individual emerge? It is difficult to say. We are so used to using the Internet on a daily basis that we could easily forget that the functioning of this system relies on technological infrastructures and societal choices that are not immutable. But what do technology strategists think? Send me your impressions: firstname.lastname@example.org