Thierry Breton: "we must understand the dynamics of progress to better correct its effects"

The metamorphosis of the work. Week 3/3. New aspirations, new constraints. Since 19 November "La Croix" explores current developments in the world of work. To close this sequence, let's analyze what the work brings, what everyone is looking for. And how these aspirations are driven by changes in working life.

Today, the changes to come. Thierry Breton, former Minister of Economics and CEO of the IT giant Atos explains how jobs and working arrangements will change in the coming years.

La Croix: present yourself as a leader in digital transformation. What & # 39; is it?

Thierry Breton: We help our customers to take full advantage of technological revolutions. Atos, which originated at the end of the 50s, is one of the oldest computer companies in the world. First of all, it offered its customers greater competitiveness. Back in 1970, we allowed companies to automate a number of administrative tasks. Then, from 1995 to 2015, we helped them, with the advent of the PC and the Internet, to integrate individual computers and work online.

Information technologies are marked by this succession of cycles from 20 to 25 years, a period necessary for a generation to approve technological innovation. Now we have entered a new cycle, that of artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of things.

Will this transition be more violent than the previous one?

T. B .: The difference is that it affects everyone, everywhere and at all times. The previous developments have changed the way we work, between 8:00 and 17:00 Today, the Internet, smartphones, social networks interfere in every moment of our lives. They have changed our way of working but also of entertaining us, of living together … This is what makes this transition deeper.

Does not it create a particular fear in terms of the destruction of work? In the man-machine game, will not the man lose the game?

T. B .: Since the first mills that turned with the power of water, the man and the car have always been against it. We will not curb the use of artificial intelligence more than the steam engine, electric motor or robots.

But when technological barriers fall, real dilemmas arise: how far to exploit the personal data of individuals? Should we set limits to automation? Should we tax the robots? Not to mention the ecological impact generated by the energy consumption of data centers and technologies like blockchain (1). I am convinced for myself that digital transformation can only be sustainable and responsible.

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Regarding the question of employment, there is the question of how to accompany those whose work will gradually be replaced by the machine. This time, we need more ambitious measures to support this change. Lifelong learning must become a fundamental right.

Does any technological progress mechanically create jobs, if it destroys them elsewhere?

T. B .: Yes, this is the whole history of humanity. Robotization and automation will create added value which in turn will generate a greater need for local jobs. Our society needs social ties, interpersonal relationships, and this is all the more true because public services are involved in this dematerialization and automation movement. A social void is created that must be filled.

When your customers buy you artificial intelligence software, what is their goal: to improve their offer? Reduce the number of its employees?

T. B .: They want to offer services that did not exist before, to better serve and retain their customers, to anticipate their requests and needs. The conquest of new commercial horizons, this is their motivation. With the fear that if they do not, others will do it for them. Whatever the moment, an entrepreneur who does not grasp the technological progress of his time risks losing competitiveness. And it exposes itself to disappear.

Is not it the new fact that new technologies will hit high-value jobs this time?

T. B .: The artificial intelligence software is now able to identify the tumor a few millimeters that only a radiologist, after fifteen years of study, could identify earlier … The radiologist will not disappear, but his work will change profoundly.

This is the dynamic of progress in which humanity has been inscribed for centuries. It must be understood to anticipate and better correct its potentially negative effects. These breaks are also an opportunity to bring out new professions and new relationships at work.

For example?

T. B .: Telework, which is just starting to take place. I had written a report on the subject since 1993. And in Atos, it has been a reality for a long time: tens of thousands of our employees work from one to two days a week from their homes, exempting from the transportation time of more and more long.

The metamorphosis of the work

We will be less and less forced to find ourselves in a specific place to perform a task. At home, some teams are made up of home-based developers, whether they live in New York, Munich, Bombay or Clermont-Ferrand. They work together but they only see each other once a month. This evolution opens up prospects, including the functioning of the public administration.

How do your exchanges evolve?

T. B .: Every year we recruit about 12,000 qualified engineers worldwide. I see young people – more than a million to apply for Atos in 2018 – have a different relationship with the company. Many no longer seek a permanent contract or a job for life. Entering a company to make a career – as did their parents – is no longer in their way of thinking.

Aware of their value in the labor market, they are willing to bargain with the company, undertake a project that fascinates them but do not want to be prisoners of this relationship. Likewise, the new generations want to organize their day or week according to their other interests.

Some economists predict the polarization of the labor market between a part "the lords of the robots" – your engineers in particular – and, on the other, an army of servants at their service, with a collapse of the intermediate professions. What do you think about it?

T. B .: In transition periods, there is always a form of fascination for those who practice new jobs. The drivers of the locomotive were considered heroes at the beginning of the previous century. In my family of farmers, we remember the great-grandfather who had come out of the agricultural world to become a stationmaster! Forty years ago, the hero was the captain. Today could be the engineer to master artificial intelligence … And tomorrow?

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As for the "servants", they are rather robots that, in my opinion, will play this role. In this case, the robots programmed to perform such repetitive tasks that would surely destroy any human being who would perform them.

Many employees feel a loss of meaning in their work, due to the segmentation of activities or the loss of connection with colleagues. Do you hear these questions?

T. B .: Of course, and this is one of the essential roles of the leader to give a course and create a social connection. I note that this question on the search for meaning, but also on the meaning of work, is accentuated in countries where goods are not very mobile like France. When your entire career takes place in the same company, it is important to make sense of your business that this relationship with the business monopolizes your life project.

Listen to an & rsquo; extension of this article on Classical Radio by clicking here

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Thierry Breton, CEO of Atos

Atos is an IT services company present in 73 countries. It employs 120,000 people and is expected to achieve a turnover of around 13 billion euros this year.

Expert in computer security, artificial intelligence, computer server supervision and data management, his job is to support the digital transformation of his clients.

Appointed at the head of Atos in November 2008, 63-year-old Thierry Breton had already managed several large companies, in particular as CEO of France Telecom (2002-2005) and Thomson (1997-2002).

He was Minister of Economics, Finance and Industry in the Fillon government (2005-2007) and taught at Harvard University in the United States (2007-2008). A graduate of École Supélec (Supelec), he began his career as an entrepreneur in New York before joining the Bull group in 1993.

Captured by Séverin Husson and Emmanuelle Réju

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