Take one of the world’s largest energy companies, Repsol, and a digital giant investing in artificial intelligence, IBM. Since 2014, these two groups have been uncovering oil hidden “under the mountains and forests of Epirus”, in Greece. Their secret weapon: artificial intelligence (AI). But can we call machines and algorithms designed to destroy the environment “intelligent”?
Artificial intelligence: the control of “tech giants” over research
James Bridle begins his latest essay All the Intelligences of the World, with a thorough criticism of these “corporate AI” which aim neither for respect for the environment nor “the happiness and security of human beings”. Designed around “the search for profit and extractivism”, their intelligence is strongly limited, notes the author. Optimistic, James Bridle is convinced that we could give ourselves the means to make them evolve. “Technology remains within our control,” he explains, and therefore “it is always up to us to correct, restore and regenerate its interactions with the world.”
The memory of the mimosa
To launch this vast “correction”, James Bridle proposes to revolutionize our way of thinking about intelligence. For the author, animals, plants and machines can develop forms of intelligence from which we could draw inspiration to create new, truly beneficial machines. To prove this to his reader, he immerses him in stories of experiences. We thus discover that a species of mimosa can help heal wounds, or that the octopus is capable of escaping from sophisticated prisons.
After artificial intelligence, soon organoid intelligence
The author compares these animal and plant intelligences to those to which machines could demonstrate. It thus tells the story of two chatbots created to communicate with each other to negotiate the price of shares, as in a real financial market. Programmed in English, the chatbots end up inventing their own language, deemed more effective for the task asked of them… before being disconnected by annoyed programmers.
A real waste, according to the essayist, who would have dreamed of letting them exchange. But James Bridle also highlights the limits of machines, which have never been capable of producing random numbers, unlike the living world. And from there the essayist imagines new relationships between the living world and machines, so that they can fill in their gaps, like this computer created by the Japanese and which works thanks to… crabs.
An ecological utopia
The author sometimes has difficulty containing his enthusiasm and his pen, generous in long digressions. But a reader who is not in too much of a hurry will easily allow himself to be accompanied on these peregrinations, which are always very educational. The author’s passion for the experiences he relates, carried out by himself and often by others, two centuries or a few months ago, does not prevent him from regularly pointing out their limits or their errors.
This abundant and demanding writing always brings us back to its message: faced with the immense complexity of intelligence systems, a redesigned AI could help us better understand the world and “create better worlds together”, between humans and other animals. , plants and machines. An ecological utopia that could well inspire creators of all kinds.