Digital technology can take us to a new level

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Interview by Journal du Dimanche with David Layani, CEO and founder of groupe onepoint.

The future. The specialist of digital transformation advocates training in digital tools for the general population.

Since the lockdown started, life without digital seems unimaginable. Is this a permanent change?
Yes, and it is a great opportunity. We need to give meaning to this unheard-of moment of pause and distance from our ordinary life as workers or students that we are immersed in since 17 March. Today, millions French citizens cannot go to work and are inactive, often against their will. We must take advantage of their current availability to train them massively in digital technology to bridge the digital divide, which is both social and geographical. We need to take one step ahead and pass on to them the skills that will be indispensable in the world after Covid-19.

Will our future be digital?
Whether we like it or not, there is no turning back. The digitalisation of our society was already underway, but the social distance imposed by the risk of infection has accelerated it tremendously. Not all of us are ready for this. I propose that we make a significant effort to ensure that the French people emerge better prepared from this crisis. It is essential to boost their employability as well as the competitiveness of their employers in the long term.

Will we all become coders?
We must first learn to master some artificial intelligence (AI) tools. This will allow us to increase our capability to process cognitive information such as reading, seeing, reasoning, and anticipating. And we must do this in an ethical way that respects our privacy. To learn about artificial intelligence is also a way to dispel the fears around this technology in order to enjoy its benefits while preserving our peace of mind. The Institut Montaigne’s “Objective AI” initiative, which aims to train at least 1% of the French population in the fundamentals of artificial intelligence, goes in this direction and should be generalised. AI should become an everyday tool like Word and Excel today. Tomorrow, it will help our doctors to analyse medical imaging and give a diagnosis, our workers and labourers to carry out predictive maintenance to minimise on-site risks, and our retailers to better manage interactions with customers, whether in-store or online. We must also train as many people as possible in cyberprotection tools. These two skills are essential and closely related.

Why?
Because the digital world is an extraordinary resource, an augmented intelligence that contains data and information of all kinds: from our secret gardens to our bank codes and passwords, as well as a mass of sensitive information in the case of economic players and public administrations. But this data is continuously exposed to cyber-attacks. The next devastating viruses we will have to face may very well be computer viruses. We have to strengthen our immunity by learning digital barrier gestures.

How do we convert people to digital quickly?
There are general training courses that can be completed remotely in a matter of weeks. The State has made a considerable effort to cushion the impact of this tremendous economic shock by funding short-time working for more than half of the employees in the private sector. Employees need to follow this training, and companies must provide them with the necessary equipment, like computers and an internet connection, in return for the funding of short time.

Should digital technology become a national cause?
By training citizens that are unskilled in digital technology, we can help strengthen France’s position in AI and digital security, highly strategic areas in which some countries are well-positioned. An agreement between companies and the government is necessary to make this ambition a reality. Everything is on the table: people’s availability, funding, content. Through political will, these training courses that are now a priority for businesses can become the natural counterpart of the emergency plan deployed to ensure their economic survival. This ambitious training plan could represent a cultural and technological breakthrough for some countries.

“The next viruses that we will have to face may be computer viruses.”