“Who were We?”, forthcoming at Fayard in May 2018

Who were we? A defense and illustration of the human race

Abstract

How do we respond to the very real threat of the extinction of humankind? In Le dernier qui s’en va éteint la lumière (2016), I characterized this way of “soft”, at the limit of pure and simple denial, accompanied by the embarrassing requirement of its childish request that any attempt at a solution must, in order to be considered, prove that it will make a profit.

Here, in Who were we? A defense and illustration of the human race, I draw up an inventory of what we human beings, manifestations of the living, have been able to understand so far of our destiny. I appraise each element and gather these fragments together to make a whole, hoping that it will ensure our salvation. A salvation that has been seriously compromised nowadays because of our indifference, or said more charitably, because we only deal with it intermittently as a secondary and less urgent issue.

The most optimistic scenario among the most plausible, in a context of accelerated destruction of the living conditions of our species on the Earth’s surface, has ceased to be that of increasingly intelligent machines at our service, software, robots and other algorithms, to be that of our pure and simple replacement by these machines that we have created. Such a development would undoubtedly represent an extraordinary feat of the human species in the history of the entire universe, since man alone has achieved an unprecedented milestone: he has extended the biological in an impressive departure from it, by inventing the entirely new domain of technology. But such an evolution would do it without us.

Man will have been able to concoct a technological substitute for biological life, and it is now invading his environment to the point of gradually taking its place, but he will have failed to maintain the conditions of his own survival in his natural environment.

Unfortunately, we may discover in the years or months to come that ensuring the survival of our species is in fact an impossible task by its very nature: tragedy would not be one of the facets of personal destiny but the profound truth of the destiny of humankind. But we must not prejudge it: we must make sure that it is beyond any doubt, we must explore the question inch by inch, offer our chance to the slightest opportunity to deny it. If this should be the case anyway, it is imperative that the proof that this is the case has been incontrovertible in every respect.

This is the reasonable conclusion to be drawn within our own culture. But what if we include other cultures in the panorama, to broaden the perspective?

At first glance, neither the situation in China at the moment, nor here at home, seems to offer simple and obvious answers as to what should be done now to avoid extinction. The Chinese in thirty-five centuries, and we in twenty-five, each with our own means, have discovered in two extremely different approaches, an important part of the needed global solution, and it would now be necessary to develop it without delay, to integrate the elements formed in each, and until recently independently, into a coherent whole.

If we want to survive as a species, we need to move quickly to the next level. To do this, it is necessary to bring together the team of those who do not resolve themselves to our definitive replacement by these machines that we have invented, the team of those who still want there to be in the future what we call today “daily life”, who hear clearly that “future generations” still answer the call. This team needs to be made up of men and women who are precisely resolute, building on the main achievements of the human race, from reciprocity to technological genius.

This is the call here in Who were we? Defense and illustration of the human race.

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