The least we can say about Eric Salobir is that he upsets received ideas. Dominican priest, ex-banker and avowed geek is technology adviser to the Vatican, mixes virtual and spiritual, talks about smart speakers like little household deities, compares the arrival of ChatGPT to that of writing 5200 years ago . Yes, technologies will change us, he believes, but it will be for the better if we manage to control them. La Presse met the 53-year-old French thinker during his recent visit to Montreal, as part of the ProLab CSF, organized by the Chamber of Financial Security.
In fact, it is not at all. The tradition of the Dominican order since the Middle Ages has been to be very close to science, therefore now to technology. We’ve always been thinkers who pushed things around a bit. It’s kind of in the family’s DNA.
It is also important. And in this revolution, the arrival of ChatGPT will be as powerful as the arrival of the internet protocol. It is not so much an industrial revolution, even if it changes the economy, the industry, the professions, but it is above all an epistemological revolution, a revolution of knowledge, of knowledge. We see it with ChatGPT, it is also a language revolution. Writing was a way to record the language and allow people to not have to learn everything and have time to understand. It makes a fundamental difference. There is writing and then, a few millennia later, the movable type of the printing press with Gutenberg which makes the production of books much cheaper. It makes it possible to disseminate knowledge in a fantastic way, it is a guarantee of social inclusion.
That’s what we usually say about money. You have hit on the key point: will we be servants or masters? In any transformation, we first see what we lose, and then we discover what we gain. Yes, there are things that will destroy themselves. When we moved from a civilization of orality to that of writing, we lost a lot in memory, but we also gained in understanding. Every time we lose something, we gain something else. The question is to ensure that the gain is always greater than the loss.
He said that she was going to give access to information to a lot of people who would not have the possibility of dialogue, we would not be sure that they would have understood. On the one hand, it’s true, but on the other, the philosopher Michel Serres reminded me with a little mischievous smile, writing has served us well all the same. When we currently see generative AIs like ChatGPT or Midjourney, some will say that there is no longer any need for Photoshop or photographers. This kind of situation has happened before: look what happened when the photograph appeared. Painting had the monopoly of representing reality. The figurative has disappeared, movements like impressionism have appeared. We would never have had Kandinsky and Picasso if the photo had not existed. The photo itself has become an art: we have won on both counts.
It will allow us to multiply our capacities. We can think that it will replace us, that there will be layoffs, but we all do a part of the job that can be replaced by a robot. We could delegate this work and focus on the essentials. With the Chamber of Financial Security, in front of an audience of financial advisers, I told them that it will not replace us. It’ll replace all the times you’re glued to your computer. You just have to look your client in the eye, understand him, reassure him, accompany him, be with him. It’s a bit to put the human, and the human relationship, much more at the heart.
When it comes to spirituality, again, the technology is a bit ambivalent. The danger when you see HomePods and all those connected speakers is to see them as Lares gods again, those little household deities who defended the house. They were just statues, you really had to believe in them. But now, since it’s connected to your home automation system, your alarm system, your telephone, when it beeps to send you a message when the children have returned from class, well, in the end, it protects you a little. The danger is that these technologies are seen more and more as sort of totems in which we put power, and ultimately we place ourselves under their protection. We could find ourselves under the thumb of technology without realizing it.
Absolutely. It is not because the place of religions is no longer the same in our north-western societies that we must imagine that we have lost the sense of the sacred. This quest still exists, it will simply take many different forms. Even if we know very well that our phone is not magic, it is so amazing that we let ourselves get into it. The question is how do you take control, saying, “This is a tool for me.” How am I going to use it to connect more with others, to free up time, to make real decisions? If these virtual assistants make all the little decisions for me, and allow me to focus on the big issues in my life, that’s great. But it’s a matter of will. We must constantly regain power over our technologies.