Alejandra de Argos by Elena Cué

The former vice president of the US government under Bill Clinton's administration, Al Gore (Washington D.C., 1948), is known worldwide for his efforts in the fight against human-caused global warming. In 2007 he received the Nobel Peace Prize as well as an Oscar for Best Documentary (2007) for the broadcasting of his speech "An Inconvenient Truth". Concern for global warming was something that had haunted him since his time as a congressman in 1976. As early as 1998, he had already proposed the launch of the Nasa DSCOVR satellite which became possible, years later, thanks to his efforts.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 AL GORE

 

The former vice president of the US government under Bill Clinton's administration, Al Gore (Washington D.C., 1948), is known worldwide for his efforts in the fight against human-caused global warming. In 2007 he received the Nobel Peace Prize as well as an Oscar for Best Documentary (2007) for the broadcasting of his speech "An Inconvenient Truth". Concern for global warming was something that had haunted him since his time as a congressman in 1976. As early as 1998, he had already proposed the launch of the Nasa DSCOVR satellite which became possible, years later, thanks to his efforts. Although he beat George W. Bush in popular votes, he lost the 2000 presidential election he ran for as the Democratic Party's candidate. Al Gore, Prince of Asturias Award (2007), is also the political father of the Internet. In 1978 he coined the term "Information Superhighway" and in 1991, as vice president in the Clinton administration, he created the National Information Infrastructure (NII) on which the Internet was developed. Gore is a visionary who knew how to solve the human need for interconnection. Once this challenge was overcome, he migrated from technological activism to environmental activism, from human interconnection to the survival of our planet.

 

You have experience advocating against climate change both in government and now in your foundation "The Climate Reality Project". In your opinion, where is your work most effective?

There is no position with as much influence as the position of president. That said, when I was not able to become president, I felt grateful to have the opportunity to influence in other ways. Ultimately, the solutions to the climate crisis must come from changed government policies. That would be the most influential way to go about it. However, in order to persuade governments to change, there is a place for advocates in the private sector and I am happy to be able to advocate for the right solutions.

 

If you were currently in government, what steps would you take in your country to help reverse climate change?

Number one, I would eliminate all government subsidies for fossil fuels. Number two, I would put a price on carbon, which would require action by the congress as well, but I believe it is now time to test the support for that measure, because I think it is there. Number three, I would accelerate the phase out of internal combustion vehicles such as cars and trucks and replace them with electric vehicles. Next, I would encourage regenerative agriculture to sequester more carbon in the top soil and plant as many trees as possible. Finally, I would launch a major program to make all buildings and factories much more efficient, with better insulation, windows, lighting and much higher levels of efficiency.

 

The United States is currently the second biggest polluter after China.

Yes. China is first and the US is second.

 

More than 90 percent of scientists consider that the greenhouse effect is anthropogenic. What would your strongest argument be to convince those who deny climate change exists?

First of all, it is now 99% of scientists. It is also Mother Nature itself whose arguments come in the form of hurricanes, floods, draughts and other consequences of the climate crisis which makes what scientists have been telling us for decades simply indisputable. If they are still deniers after all this time, I don’t know what might convince them. There are still people who believe the landing on the moon was a hoax. There are still people who believe that the Earth is flat. It is pointless to waste time arguing with such people.

 

How do the interests of dirty-energy (fossil fuel energy) companies affect the solution of the problem?

Some of the fossil fuel energy companies, especially in the US, have been using unethical strategies to slow down the solutions to the climate crisis. They have been doing the same thing that tobacco companies have been doing for so many years: putting information out to the public that is false and inaccurate. Tobacco companies hired actors, dressed them up as doctors and put them on television to lie to the public and tell them there were no health problems with cigarettes. Some of the fossil fuel companies, especially in my country, have been doing the same thing. They spend a lot of money to give the public misleading and false information about the climate crisis. They tell people that it does not exist, that it is exaggerated, that it is not a serious problem. President Trump is one of the biggest violators. He is supported by these fossil fuels companies precisely because he is willing to lie to people about the climate crisis.

 

What does it mean to you to receive the Nobel Peace Prize (2007) for your activism in favor of the theory of Climate Change?

The most important meaning is that it gives me a better opportunity to convince people that we have to change. It was the greatest honor of my life, along with the Prince of Asturias award. Both of these prestigious awards are important to me, not for personal pride, but because it gives me a better chance to gain an audience.

 

What are the main contributions of the COP25 World Climate Summit in Madrid? Have there been any significant advances?

Not yet, but usually the advances come on the final day of such conferences so I am hopeful they will break the impasse that currently exists at the conference center, where I spoke this morning. I hope they will be able to prepare the blueprint for next year’s meeting in Glasgow where all 195 nations will be asked to make bolder commitments to reduce their global warming pollution.

 

Does reaching an agreement between nations signify success even if not all countries are committed to it?

When the entire world reaches an agreement, that agreement inevitably puts a lot of pressure on all nations to do their absolute best to comply. It also puts a lot of pressure on private businesses, banks and investors. In some ways, business leaders are making more progress than political leaders. The reason for this is that the customers of these very businesses are telling them that they want to do business with companies that are part of the effort to solve the climate crisis.

 

Your documentary "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" covers the dilemma presented by countries like India, that need to burn fossil fuels in order to generate the energy needed to develop its industry, infrastructure and to increase the well-being of its population. As a solution, you advised them to increase their investment in renewable energies. Has there been any progress since the Paris Summit?

Yes, there has been fantastic progress in India. The country has experienced a big change since the Paris conference. They have started building massive solar and wind farms. Their electricity prices are going down. The air is no longer as dirty because of burning coal although they have other sources of dirty air that they still have a real problem dealing with. However, their commitment to solar energy is helping them build a better future.

 

In a climate emergency situation, like the one we are in at the moment, what impact do the Amazon wildfires have?

The new president of Brazil, Balsanaro, is responsible for no longer enforcing the environmental protections that have limited the burning of the Amazon. He is giving a green light and it has resulted in a much more fires. The risk is that the Amazon will be picked apart and will lose its ecological integrity. Scientists are now very worried that it will flip into a different ecosystem. Instead of being a forest it may become a savanna. If that happens, it will no longer absorb as much CO2 so it will make the global problem worse.

 

As the Amazon belongs to Brazil, how can we balance taking care of the world’s lungs with the demands of a growing population that has its own needs?

Destroying the Amazon is not a solution to poverty. It is simply a mistake and an ecological travesty. One reason it is a mistake is that the soil in the Amazon is extremely thin and it will not support agriculture for long. What we are seeing is a lot of corruption with people destroying the Amazon, making a quick profit and then abandoning it soon after. The way to create prosperity and more jobs is to accelerate the shift to solar and wind energy and sustainability as a blueprint. That can actually create more jobs and more wealth in Brazil than could ever be done by simply burning down the rainforest. In addition, it is important to remember that in the twenty-first century one of the most valuable resources is the unique pull of generic information that is in the rainforest. Cures for cancer and other diseases are often found in the exotic forms of life that exist in more abundance in the Amazon than anywhere else on Earth. It is foolish to destroy all of this genetic knowledge without even cataloging it and trying to use this information for its great value in medicine and in the making of new materials.

 

The overall notion seems to be that the development of new technologies, such as solar and wind energy, is slowing down but your stance is different to that. Could you explain why you are optimistic about it?

Many people are surprised when they see the latest business statistics. Electricity from the sun is now the cheapest source of electricity. The second cheapest source is electricity from wind. It is actually not that uncommon for people to be surprised when a brand new technology develops quickly. It is now a repeated pattern in the modern world where all of a sudden our mobile phones, for example, become supercomputers. They become everything; they can even act as flashlights. You can pay your bills with them. There are many other examples of these new technologies that at first are expensive and awkward but then they go down in cost and become much more sophisticated. This is what has happened with solar and wind energy. Those who have not been a part of that industry, after a few years pass, they see the new reforms and are very surprised but the business people who keep track of this are not surprised. They have been expecting this and they have been investing in it. Now, these new forms of energy are radically changing the energy marketplace worldwide.

 

The technology for storing solar energy has also advanced.

That is exactly right. In addition to the fantastic improvements in the technology for solar and wind, there is now also a fantastic improvement in the technology of batteries that can store the electricity so that you can use solar energy at night and wind energy when the wind is not blowing. The cost of these batteries has also been going down very rapidly.

 

And how about here in Spain?

There is less use of batteries in Spain than in most other advanced countries. I am not quite sure why that is the case but I think that will soon change. By the way, Spain has one of the most fantastic resources for solar energy than any other nation in the world. Particularly in the southern half of Spain. The development of batteries along with solar energy can transform the energy markets in Spain and sharply reduce the price of electricity making all businesses in Spain more competitive.

 

Regarding radioactive materials, do you think the nuclear waste management can be done in a safe manner?

Yes, I do, but nuclear energy, in its present form, is the most expensive source of electricity that we have. It is being phased out in most countries. China is still building a few new reactors but most countries are not, mainly because it is so expensive. There are two other problems. The handling of nuclear waste can probably be done safely but it also adds to the cost. Utility companies are paying money into a fund that is supposed to be used for the careful storage for nuclear waste but it is going to require even more money if there are more reactors built. Another problem is that the experience and knowledge necessary to manage nuclear plants has been hollowed out. The graduate schools that train nuclear engineers have not been training many nuclear engineers because after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi the acceptability of nuclear energy was damaged in the minds of the public. Germany, for example, cancelled its nuclear plan.

 

When Alliance 90 (The Greens) entered the German government, Germany reduced its nuclear plants by twenty percent but in return increased its fossil fuel production. Now Germany is one of the biggest polluters in Europe...

The answer is not to go from nuclear to coal and gas, but to go from nuclear to solar, wind and batteries.

 

Given the current climate change emergency and the fact that nuclear power plants do not polute the atmosphere, should we consider nuclear power as a temporary solution to the urgent need to reduce emissions?

Most of the business leaders in the utility industry have become discouraged about nuclear energy. If you are the CEO of a utility company making and selling electricity and you decided to build a new nuclear plant, you would consult your staff and ask questions. One of the questions you would ask is how much it would cost to build a new nuclear plant. The truth is there is not a single consulting engineer in Europe or North America who will give you an answer to that question. No one can tell you how much it will cost. A second question you might ask is how many years it would take before the nuclear plant is finished so you can start using it to make electricity. There too, no one can give you an answer to that question. It is discouraging if you do not know how much it would cost or how long it will take to build. The utility company’s CEO would say that he/she does not want something with that much cost, uncertainty and trouble. That is what has been happening and it is happening in Spain as well. You have some nuclear plants here that are 40 years old and they keep getting 5-year extensions. They actually do provide about 20% of your electricity. I could be wrong, but I think that is about right. They do play a valuable role but the future of nuclear power does not look very good unless innovators come up with a new kind of nuclear plant that is less expensive and safer to operate.

 

What is your opinion of the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg?

I think she is fantastic. I am a big supporter of Greta. I met her a year ago in Poland at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I greatly admire her ability to speak truth to people in power. I think she is a remarkable young woman and I am her biggest fan.

 

 Al Gore Elena Cue

Al Gore during his interview with Elena Cué

 

 

- Interview with Al Gore -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

 

Does science distance us from God? Professor of Economic Structure and member of the Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences Ramón Tamames (Madrid, 1933) delves into the cosmology between scientists and philosophers in the already longstanding quest for the Primary Cause or Higher Intelligence as origin of the universe. The title of his latest book 'Searching For God In The Universe. A worldview on the meaning of life' (Erasmus) gives a clue as to its contents.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  Ramón Tamames foto Elena Cue 

Ramón Tamames. Photo: Elena Cué

 

Does science distance us from God? Professor of Economic Structure and member of the Royal Academy of Moral and Political Sciences Ramón Tamames (Madrid, 1933) delves into the cosmology between scientists and philosophers in the already longstanding quest for the Primary Cause or Higher Intelligence as origin of the universe. The title of his latest book 'Searching For God In The Universe. A worldview on the meaning of life' (Erasmus) gives a clue as to its contents.

Are you searching because you don't have faith or because you do and you want to back it up with science?

Essentially, it's just a case of my keen interest in cosmology and how little I may or may not understand of advanced physics. I'm also interested in the origin of everything and the meaning of life. And it's not actually that I don't have faith. In fact, I don't really get involved with revelation or mysticism, the usual channels that lead to faith. I respect it, though. Actually, I had a Christian upbringing and I've never stopped experiencing "moments" in that regard. I'm not a practitioning Christian but there's always "that certain something".

Have you arrived at any conclusions? 

Yes, in that physics doesn't have all the answers or that it does but in a somewhat fantastical way. For example, Hawking told us that the universe was born by chance from a quantum fluctuation that produced the Big Bang. Naturally, that explanation leaves us cold, because ... what's behind all that? Where's the sense to it? That's what I've always wanted to research because, at the end of the day, the notion I have happens to very closely match that of one of my heroes, Isaac Asimov, who says that we're a staged planet: we're here and we're being observed by someone seeing how we manage, what evolution we follow and how we behave.

Would you say that was the crux of your search?

Alongside the meaning of life, there's someone at work behind it all, a superior intelligence that ushered in the Big Bang, gave rise to the computer and set material and biological evolution in motion. 

What would this God have to do with the Christian God? 

The act of creation. Essentially, the 'fiat lux' of the Vulgate, or the Latin version of the Bible, means "Let there be light". Many scientists say they don't like the Big Bang Theory because they think it's got a theological context. They say it's like God from the Book of Genesis. But that's just them arguing for argument's sake because the universe has to have had an origin and the most logical one would seem to be that one. I think the Christian God is a Judeo-Christian revelation belief. I respect that and I don't judge it. That's the Christian God and the Son of God. But it's a revelation. I come from a scientific viewpoint and I understand that God, as a superior intelligent being, might have many human manifestations, one of them being that of Christianity but, personally speaking, I think that's the most exalted of all the manifestations – because we're very influenced by that whole culture.

Have you encountered God yet in this quest?

No, I haven't. In any case, what I don't claim is that a God will reveal itself via a voiceover going "Here I am". Everything to do with creation is so absolutely left-field that I've ended up agreeing with the Seven Wise Men, as reflected at the end of my book. Not by reason of a criterion of mere authority but because they were brilliant people who've spent a lot of time thinking all this through. But in any case, I sense there's a higher intelligence that governs everything.

To sense God through science is possible. But do you think it's also possible for there to be a scientific basis for God?

That's the exact struggle between deism – although I don't much like that term – and militant atheism, such as that esposed by Richard Dawkins, the biologist. In any case, there's no solid path of 'basis' via science because if there were, we'd all be living in unanimity. Show me that DNA contains four bases and how that's what all living things are formed from. And tell me that's God's alphabet. But it's a parable, not a reality. If there were any proof, there wouldn't be any controversy.

You say that, in the 1980s, many scientists adhered to the belief that evolution didn't happen by chance or necessity, but by way of a teleological principle, namely, that it has a finality.

That's something that's been argued since at least pre-Socratic times, for over 2,500 years. Suffice it to say the discussion is a permanent one. Aristotle was already saying of Leucippus and Democritus that they had to have been drunk as skunks because they were going around saying it made no sense, when everyone knew, including Aristotle, that it did make sense and that there was bound to be a teleology.

And what do you think?

I think it's an ongoing discussion that, in a way, opens up into the philosophy of the meaning of life. Kant himself, around 1790, wondered what the point of it all was, giving rise to these four famous questions: What can I know?; What should I do?; What can I expect?; What is Man? And that way of thinking is typical of the Enlightenment. And what is the Enlightenment? Well, according to Kant, it's reaching the age of maturity.

That's where we're at. If I could offer any definitive examples, I'd give them and be over the moon! Actually, I sent my book to the Pope and his Secretary of State replied to me with an autographed photo of him. Saying nothing at all.

Do you think there's less respect for institutuions, governments, beliefs, etc nowadays?


I think that's always happened. In the Century of Reason, Baron d'Holbach stopped believing in God and laughed at Christians. The thing is, sometimes it's been more tolerated and permissable than others. Nobody can doubt that in 16th and 17th Century Spain, anyone agitating too much in that regard got what was coming to them. In that sense, there's always been unrest. What's happening now is that people demonstrate more via social media, they're bolder, knowing full well that public freedoms and guarantees allow them to do so. The media are very much to blame for hypertrophy. They induce changes in the general mindset, no doubt about it, and things that were unacceptable in formal societies a hundred years ago are acceptable now.

How do you see the Spanish economy right now?

I'll say something that may seem like an exaggeration but it isn't. The economy is doing quite well and comparatively better than the rest of the European economy, despite the politics, because political instability is having quite an effect on it right now and despite the Administration, which I would call a great lumping monstrosity of a thing and an absolute disgrace. I'm not talking about the doctors, I'm not talking about the police, I'm talking about the Administration itself, the change in policies, in the fundamentals, and also, obviously, the bureaucracy because the problem with bureaucrats is not only that they cost us more and more money every day, but, as they have to prove they're useful, they delay and complicate everything.

So Spain is doing well ...

This country is doing well despite its Administration, which is a great lumbering monstrosity of a thing. There's the answer. And why is it doing well? Because we have the best entrepreneurs in our entire history. And our stock market, Ibex 35, is symbolic of this entrepreneurship we have. There'll be some doing better than others but that a group of companies does almost 70% of their business outside Spain means that they are competitive. That's what you have to recognize.

Which economic proposals do you think would be needed for improvement?

There’s no lack of proposals. And fortunately we have proposals that are very positive indeed, that come to us from outside the country. My opinion is that "Super Mario", aka Mario Draghi, has an impressive policy for European economic recovery and he hasn't allowed the Euro to go under. And I think there are many other recipes for success but they're being obstructed by the 18 ministers we have, the corresponding secretaries of state, the thousands of director generals, and so on.

You write that skepticism is growing about whether CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. And you speak at length, warning of the danger we face in the short term in your book 'Facing the Climate Apocalypse' (Profit Editorial).

That's where most of the uncertainty lies, actually: the fact we don't know if we'll be in time or not. Someone well-versed in this, James Lovelock – who worked at NASA and is the author of the Gaia thesis – argues that Earth is a self-regulating organism and that at any moment Gaia's revenge might come, namely, to expel man and let evolution continue on, but without the human species. Perhaps that's a scientific exaggeration to make people wake up, just as the young Swedish girl Greta Thunberg has done, saying that climate change is humanity's worst and foremost problem.

The problem is whether we get there in time or not ...

I have my doubts, serious doubts. Not exceeding 2°C above the temperature benchmark set before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution as the main objective of the whole 2015 Paris Agreement is a pipe dream. What's clear is that we're continuing to accumulate greenhouse gases and that the symptoms are fatal not only in the Arctic and the Antarctic, but also in glaciers and droughts, etc. The problem is to get them under control before it's too late and Lovelock says we won't.

Why is it a pipe dream?

Because China will continue to emit greenhouse gases without curbing them until 2038. And the U.S. has also, theoretically though not legally, withdrawn from the Agreement. It's true that many of the states over there, especially on the West Coast, are doing an impressive job of reducing carbon emissions. But the point is that we haven't taken the problem seriously enough yet and the deniers are still out there. The Paris Agreement needs to be revised.

How can we decarbonize society and take care of the biosphere, without doing economic damage?

There's no problem there. The Paris Agreement, and all of its members meeting every year, more or less foresaw and saw to that. The last summit was in Katowice and, if nothing else, they agreed on accepted methods by which to measure emission reduction, which is no small thing.
I think the Climate Act, a good plan in the making, is a great start and we'll be opening some plants and closing others. And renewable energy is moving very fast. But we're still without a coherent plan. Teresa Ribera, the Minister for Ecological Transition, said to expect it by Christmas. I think the European Union is doing a good job. It has set some objectives that are attainable but the problem is whether or not they alone will suffice.

 

 Ramon Tamames Foto Elena Cue 

Ramón Tamames. Photo: Elena Cué

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 

 - Interview with Ramón Tamames -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

Sidi, the latest novel by writer and Royal Spanish Academy member Arturo Pérez Reverte (Cartagena, 1951), has just been published. Sidi is the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, Cid the Champion, and where his legend begins: his leadership, his sense of honour, his courage, loyalty and dignity  but also of pride, pillaging, blood and swords. A journey through time to that Spain of hard knock men with other ideals; men of courage and strategy in warfare, in waiting, in uncertainties ...

 Autor: Elena Cué

 

 Arturo Perez Reverte foto por Elena Cue 

Arturo Pérez Reverte. Photo: Elena Cué

 

Sidi, the latest novel by writer and Royal Spanish Academy member Arturo Pérez Reverte (Cartagena, 1951), has just been published. Sidi is the story of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, Cid the Champion, and where his legend begins: his leadership, his sense of honour, his courage, loyalty and dignity  but also of pride, pillaging, blood and swords. A journey through time to that Spain of hard knock men with other ideals; men of courage and strategy in warfare, in waiting, in uncertainties ...

With the echo of the battle of Pinar de Tébar still sounding in my head, I talk to the author.


The 11th century, at the height of the Middle Ages, in a Spain of Moors and Christians. Sidi makes his living in exile. What is this novel about?

There are two fundamental narratives: the first is what our border was like in the 11th century, our Wild West. It was a very dangerous and unstable border, full of equally dangerous people. The second is a reflection on leadership: how a person is able to wield control, with the respect and command of an armed retinue of tough, dangerous men in a place that was no less dangerous. In other words, how someone is able to get others to follow him, even to die for him.

You  say that there are many Cids in the history of Spain, some moreso than others.

But this one is mine. I wanted to tell the story of a Cid that hadn't been told yet, especially at the moment he took shape. I came to it with all the documentation and also with all of my own personal biography. I've poured everything I know about human beings into this kind of subject. The Cid looks at the world as I look at it: I have given him my eyes. When I speak of violence, death and blood, to a certain extent I have lived them all myself.

As a war correspondent and photographer, you've covered various conflicts such as those of Libya, the Sudan, Bosnia .... And as a writer, wars are present in many of your novels. Why this fascination with war?

It isn't fascination. I left home very young, with a rucksack and a few books, and went to a war. I learnt things in a single day that might otherwise have taken me ten years to learn. I was twenty years old and had a vision of culture that allowed me to interpret war as something more than a mere spectacle of barbarism. It was nurturing in an intellectual sense. I learnt about human beings, their behaviours, the value of things. War is horrific. I was rather more fascinated by the feeling of being close to the truth of what a human being is.  

Behind the legend or the romance of the character lies the most terrible violence. In The Painter of Battles, you make a profound reflection on cruelty as an irresistible impulse. Is cruelty inherent to Man?  

Human beings are a very dangerous animal, and yes, cruel. The point is that we want the world to be a certain way: that there be rules and behavioural norms as well as moral principles, an Enlightenment that made us change the way we look at the world, or a Renaissance. But the thing is that the world isn't like that. That is a tiny part of the world. As soon as you leave its confines, you add war. That's the real world. We think everything is stable but, when you have been to Beirut or Sarajevo, you realize that all it takes is a political, economic or social crisis for everything to fall apart.

What did war give you?

War gives you consciousness, a lucidity like that of a sailor who must always be mindful of the sea. And that certainty of disaster as something possible, that the Westerner has lost, our grandparents still had it. There was at that time a greater proximity to the reality of things. I've seen violence: I've seen killing, I've seen torture, and I've been friends, too, with people who did those things. And those same people who did horrible things also did, the very same day, great things. That gives you a very different measure of things. That's what I make my novels out of.

And this novel takes place at a violent time of terrible insecurity when survival was difficult. What do you think is the price we human beings have paid for the security we enjoy today?

We're more vulnerable. There's one thing in this novel that I've tried to make stand out and that's the fact that everyone spends a lot of time on the lookout because being watchful means living or dying. Nowadays, the only thing we humans stare at is our mobiles or the television. We don't see reality. The world is a hostile place often populated by sons of ******* and that is a very fair definition of what the world is. We pay a very high price for the false security we get from not looking at reality. 

Now that you no longer take photos when dealing with war, what do you look at?

I look backwards. I have a rucksack full of memories that help me to live in a much more suspicious, much more lucid way, in the sense that you know what a dangerous place is, that even here we are in a dangerous place. That is why we can never relax and why we Westerners, instead, live lives of real deception. 

You've been a man of action. What comparison would you make between the power of experience and the mental journey from your writing desk?

There are three ways to nurture and flesh out a novel: with what you've read, what you've lived and what you imagine. When you've lived a complex life like mine, with intense doses of extreme situations, that works for writing novels too. For example, if I am describing torturing someone in Falco, a trilogy of novels about a Francoist spy who is handsome and elegant but also a son of a ***** , when Falco tortures someone, I am drawing on my memories of Angola, on my own experience.

Swapping war for your writing desk ~ was that a radical change?

It wasn't radical. I left journalism in 1994 but I went through a period of adaptation. There were a few years that were difficult, more or less until The Painter of Battles, with which I brought that period to a close. I go sailing. And my substitute for war is the sea, the real one. On a sailboat in the Gulf of Leon in winter, I can assure you there's lots of action. I've changed, of course. There are things I can no longer do like walking 40 kilometers every day, in the blistering sun with no more shade than my hat. I'm 68 and my body wouldn't accept it.

Why did you close that period?

I once met a guy in Asia, in Bangkok, who'd been a correspondent for a Spanish newspaper in the 70's and he was an old alcoholic, frequenting prostitutes, etc. He was telling me about his life and I was thinking: one day I'm going to be like this guy. And I told myself I didn't want to end up like that. From the very beginning, I tried to create another parallel part of my life to retreat to when the time came. I always knew I'd leave, that one day all that would come to an end. We're usually told that human beings are good and that the world makes them bad. I think it's the other way round. Human beings are born with instincts that aren't bad, but very primal: keeping warm, eating, procreating, sheltering, protecting ourselves. That's what we sacrifice everything else to. It is society that, by creating a series of rules, civilizes us. But put us in extreme situations and the human being becomes very dangerous.

Sidi is a charismatic warrior who gets his supporters to follow him blindly into battle and brings about cohesion and understanding among very diverse people. For example, Moors and Christians united under him. What qualities do you think a leader should have? .

In a way, this book is also a kind of self-help manual on leadership. My idea was: why does a member of the lowest rank of the nobility who has fallen from grace into disgrace, a nobody to all intents and purposes, manage to become a legend who eclipses the names of the kings of his day? How does a man, at that time, get others to follow him and die for him? How does he achieve such loyalty, loyalty being the hardest thing to achieve in life? And I wasn't interested in him as the finished article but rather in when he began to become the Cid: the years of evolution, of exile; in short, when the legend begins.

Are there leaders today?

Yes, possibly. There always have been. But the problem, in my opinion, is that our times don't deserve these men. When we speak of virtue in the Roman sense, namely, of nobility of spirit and an elegant attitude towards life, of personal dignity and courage, you realize that today's world is not interested in that, doesn't want it and even rejects it. What's more, when the people of today come face to face with virtue, they mock it. Up against noble people who can't be matched, they ridicule them. The mediocre person tries to bring them down. And since they can't, they try mockery. Anyone can do it over the Internet, in 140 characters, on TV...

Laughter is a powerful weapon ...

The Cids, the personalities are there. Human beings constantly produce geniuses, artists and creators, heroes and firefighters, wonderful people willing to die for many reasons. They're people willing to sacrifice themselves for what they believe in. That bothers some people.

Do you think there's anyone left now who's willing to die for their country or an ideal?

Actually, I don't think the Cid dies for an ideal. He had a code of allegiances and dignity. I mean, what I was interested in highlighting about the Cid is that it's not about a person who sets out to fight for an ideal. He was doing it to put food on the table. He is not fighting first and foremost for the Reconquest  (which didn't as yet exist in Spain) but rather because these were kingdoms where there was fighting between Moors and Christians. Besides that, he has no providential mission. All of that comes later. He had no religious or patriotic ideas, which is to say, he wasn't fighting for God or country.

But despite his banishment, he continued to pledge allegiance and respect to King Alfonso VI.

Do you know why? Because when you have nothing, when you are an outcast, expelled from the bosom of society – whether you are a criminal or a mercenary – and the general codes with which society protects itself stop working, you need to have something to respect: you need a loyalty code between your people and something else. Even marginalised people, even people who are moderately decent seek some kind of justification in order not to feel wretched.

In your book The History of Spain, you wrote your version of it. For many people, it’s a cliche to say that Spain is different. Do you think so?

Yes, of course, Spain is a very rough and rugged country divided up into plots and land parcels where, when a valley meets its neighbouring valley, they suspect each other. We've always had that kind of geographical fragmentation. To that we have to add the Muslim invasion, religions, bad governments, etc. So Spain has a long history of discord, lack of unity, villainy and Cainism. I've always said that Cain had a Spanish ID card. And when you analyze the history of Spain, it becomes clear that, with that lack of solidarity, it is difficult for us to do anything in unison. As soon as the pressure gives way, everything disintegrates. So, the best thing for a Spanish child is to make them travel, because if you leave them in their valley, in their village, they will never leave. In Spain, any control over education has been lost. It's chaos. There are gaping holes in culture, the arts, etc. There are seventeen different systems ... and that doesn't leave much hope as regards future generations.

 

 

  Arturo Perez Reverte entrevistado por Elena Cue 

 

(Translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 - Interview with Arturo Pérez-Reverte  -                                  - Alejandra de Argos -

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Steve Schwarzman 4 HiRes 

 Stephen Schwarzman. 

 

Stephen Schwarzman (Pennsylvania, 1947), CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, one of the world's leading investment firms, is an active philanthropist in areas such as education, culture and the arts. He recently published his memoir: "What it Takes". Since his youth, Schwarzman has been a courageous, self-confident man with a spirit of leadership and ambition whilst being careful not to be reckless. With a BA from Yale University and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he is a tireless worker who barely sleeps, knows how to select the best people, listens to and asks for advice and always finds time for a kind word.

Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative assets management firm, which you co-founded with Peter Peterson in 1985 with $400.000 start-up capital, is now worth $55 billion with $500 billion turnover. What do you think is the key to its success?

To begin, we had a really good strategic plan. One thing I have learned in life is that you need to know where you want to go and you need to have a good plan. You need to do something that nobody else is doing, something you think will become very popular and develop very big ideas. Our strategic plan had three parts. The first was to go into the Merge and Acquisitions Advisory business (M&A). The good thing about this business is you do not need any capital. Large corporations pay you millions of dollars to think and advise them. If they pay you, it is because you are doing it well.

The second part to our strategy was to go into the private equity business which basically consists of buying companies, improving them and making them grow faster, which in turn will make them sell better or go public. They will have more income and therefore double the profit. That way you have transformed the company into a much faster growing business and you will hire more people. It is very beneficial. You can end up making double the profit by investing in the stock market averages. If you double it, a lot of people will want to give you money so they can make double too.

Where does the capital come from?

Generally, we get our money from very big pension funds around the world, but we also receive investments from other institutional or individual investors. We thought this type of business would have explosive growth and it has. The key was finding people with talent in that area, a great investment potential. That was the third part to our strategy.

And how did you become the biggest Real “Landlord” in the world?

At that stage, we could not foresee what the areas of interest would be. Therefore, we had to wait and that is precisely how we ended up in real estate in 1991. We saw an opportunity in the real estate sector during the second US government auction in which a lot of bankrupt savings and loan types from banks were on sale. Now, we are the largest real estate owner in the world. We specialize in buying in places which have had difficulties so the price drops significantly and then with the normal economic recovery comes a large profit.

So they began to grow...

We invested in improving those assets in order to make them more attractive. That is the basis of how we built the firm. In 1986, we started by raising our first fund and now, instead of one, we have 50 funds in 50 different areas. We began in the United States, then expanded to Europe and Asia. We started with the highest returning products and now we have realized that products with less return and less leverage are also attractive.

In the last few years, you have invested €23 billion in our country. What lead you to invest in Spain?

Spain played an important role in Blackstone’s development. Our team discovered Spain was building so many apartment units they could have housed most of Germany and still had units left over. It was easy to predict that the construction sector would end up collapsing. At the same time our team in India informed us that land prices had multiplied by 10 in 18 months. The same was happening in the United States. Therefore, I told my team we had to sell all the assets tied up in residential housing around the world. It was clear what was going to happen.

It seemed like not everyone was aware of it...

Our business consists of gathering information and objectively assessing it. When Spain, as expected, went through a very difficult economic time and nobody in the country was buying real estate, we thought if we could buy properties at a low enough price and invest in improving them, we would achieve excellent results, as was the case in the United States. Indeed, that is what happened. Spain is a strong country despite having gone through a terrible time with the crisis. We believed in Spain and its ability to recover.

How would you evaluate the current economic climate in Spain and in Europe?

Spain has recovered very well. It has a good economy. Europe is experiencing a deceleration in terms of economic growth, as is every country in the world.

Some say another recession is on the horizon.

I am not sure we are going to have a recession in the United States, it is more likely to happen in Europe. The United States is doing better. There is full employment, the best rates since 1969. The American consumer is very strong. Wages are increasing faster than inflation so consumers have more money and they are spending it. That represents 70% of the US economy. That is the base. Even though manufacturing all over the world is decreasing, including in the United States, it only represents 11% of our economy, in comparison to 70% made up by the consumer, which is a vast difference.

 Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cue

Stephen Schwarzman. Photo by Elena Cué 

 

In your book “What it takes” you talk about the mentors who shaped you as a person, such as, your father. Which values laid down the foundation of your career as an entrepreneur?

In the United States it is quite common to help others in their professional career. Most entrepreneurs are not completely alone, they often have partners, particularly in the field of technology, where most of the great companies were formed by various people. I was going to drop out of my MBA program at Harvard. I wrote a letter to the manager of the company I had previously worked for and he responded with six pages about his life. After reading it, I said to myself: “OK, I will continue studying”. That one decision changed the course of my life. There are many times when there is a point of inflection. You talk to other people and if they are intelligent, you listen to what they say and act accordingly. This helped me so now it is my duty to help others.

What are the most relevant attributes a person must have in order to join the Blackstone team?

Blackstone has always been what we call a meritocracy. It means that the people with the best values win; we are looking for born competitors. We keep producing new business lines so everyone can be in charge of something if they are qualified to do so. We are looking for people who are very intelligent, hard-working, non-political and good communicators. People who have a good understanding of what is happening around them and also possess solid analytic skills. Another attribute is they must be good people. When I was at Lehman, there were a lot of employees who left a lot to be desired in that aspect which lead to a very talented group of people suffering.

What would you advise someone who wants to start a business?

You should try to do something that no one else is doing, imagine something that does not yet exist but you think the market will want. If you limit yourself to opening the exact same type of business as others, there is no real reason why anyone should come to you. It becomes much less likely you will be successful, it is not bad, but it is not ideal. You have to time it right, without deviating much from what people want. When Walt Disney created his first theme park, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. No one else had done anything similar until then. There is always a myriad of setbacks, but moving forward and overcoming those problems is not as important as having a clear vision of what you want to do. The creative process is initially abstract; it is just a thought. Then you need to assemble as many financial resources as possible. If you have big dreams, the chance of them coming true is a lot greater.

In the book you explain how President Donald Trump asked you to form and manage a group of talented and knowledgeable individuals, no politics, who could tell him the truth. The Forum was later disbanded. It seemed to be a very good idea for any government…

Everyone who runs an organization should aspire to have as much objective input as possible. When you are the head of something, particularly in politics, you are quite isolated because when people around you criticize you, you usually stop listening to them. Forming a group of people, who are not political, who tell you what you are doing right and wrong, is a great concept. In a democracy, most people are not necessarily experts in everything, yet they are responsible for everything. Would it not be useful to have experts to guide you in the areas you are not familiar with?

You have served your country in many ways, including acting as the intermediate in trade talks between the United States and China. What is your opinion after the United Nations’ last General Assembly?

It is complicated because the Chinese have adopted an emerging market approach to their economy, much like the United States did in the 19th century when it was a developing country. At the time, we relied on significant tariff barriers that allowed us to develop our economy protected by those restrictions. China is experiencing the same process. Forty years ago, the average income in China was only a few hundred US dollars per person, whereas currently it is around $10,000 per person. Today, China is the second biggest economy in the world, after the United States. There is a big gap between China and other countries. Together the United States and China represent somewhere between 35% and 40% of the whole world’s economy, depending on the scale you apply. The United States and the developed world want China to remove some of these restrictions that confers them certain advantages over other developed countries. It is difficult for China because if you have always had an advantage, why would you change? In which case, they haven’t. It is not a coincidence that we have not signed an agreement with them in about 70 years. Now we are taking that very seriously.

The lack of trade agreements for such a long time is surprising. Could you explain some of the causes behind the lack of understanding between the United States and China?

There are two groups in Chinese politics: the reformists who believe China should adjust and change, and the intransigent people who are satisfied with what the country has done and do not want to change it. The reason why trade agreements are so difficult is because it is hard to know which part of China is going to control the country’s demands. At different points of the negotiations, the power shifts back and forth between the reformists and the intransigents. Negotiations between the two countries were about 90% complete in May this year but the Chinese then eliminated about a third of what was agreed and the negotiations collapsed. I think both China and the United States realize that decoupling the two largest economies on the planet is going to slow the world down and not just in the short term. It is probably in the best interest of both economies to establish their objectives.

How did China become important to you?

Actually, it all happened by chance. In 2007, when we went public, the Chinese government approached us to request to buy 3 billion dollars worth of stock, which represented 9.9% of the company. We offered them non-voting stock which meant they would not have a member on the board of directors. It was the first time since 1949, when modern China was founded, that China as a country, had bought a major amount of shares in a foreign company. Blackstone was the first. This had global repercussions because it was a sign that China had started to recycle its huge financial reserves and wanted to participate in the rest of the world. For us it was a complete surprise.

In 2016, you founded and built the Schwarzman Scholars College at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which offers a master’s program helping to build a stronger relationship between China and the rest of the world. What was your motivation?

Current president Xi Jinping and his predecessor studied at Tsinghua University, the biggest politically connected university in China. It has an international advisory board formed by a group of CEOs from different countries, including a lot of prominent Chinese figures such as Jack Ma from Alibaba, Robin Li from Baidu, Pony Ma from Tencent and people from around the world such as Tim Cook from Apple and Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, amongst others. There are also many senior members of the Chinese government. I could see that things were not going to remain the same between China and the rest of the world after the financial crisis because China continued to grow, whereas European countries and the United States went into a terrible recession and unemployment in Europe is still very high. That situation would lead people in the developed world to feel unhappy, particularly those who earnt between 40% and 50% of the average income and generally, that triggers what is known as “populism”. People in lower income brackets get angry with the wealthy and with business and financial people. Normally, as shown in history, they project their anger onto a foreign devil and I knew, in this case, it would be China because it was very important. China was doing so well both economically and financially. Therefore, I decided I wanted to address this problem of the Western world’s friction with China.

In June, your record donation of £150,000,000 given to the University of Oxford was announced and featured on the front page of all the major media sources. Can you explain the main reason for such a generous donation to the field of ethics in Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a new technology which will explode all over the world as it can do some incredible things. It can help enormously in the medical sector, in education and in the workplace. It is a revolution. On the other hand, AI can create problems. One area is employment. Machines will replace people, as they already did at the start of the industrial revolution but that took about 100 to 125 years, whereas AI will happen in the next 10 to 20 years. The idea that everything always works out is right but if it happens very quickly, you can have huge dislocations and much larger unemployment than society can absorb. Therefore, Artificial Intelligence ethics is just a code word for trying to figure out how to allow this technology to be introduced to society so we can reap the benefits, whilst maintaining enough control to ensure the disadvantages are reduced. This requires the involvement of governments, companies, research universities and the media so that you can introduce these regulations without eliminating the benefits of the technology which will enormously help all kinds of people. That is why I am supporting this. I chose Oxford which is a unique university in the study of humanities.

With a donation of $350.000.000 you have created a new space in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) dedicated to the study of Artificial Intelligence and Computing which will be opened this year.

The reason for creating the Schwarzman College of Computing at MIT is to advance in the field of science but also to analyze AI ethics. Oxford is number 1 in humanities in the world, whereas MIT, depending on whose ranking, is number 1 or 2 in technology in the world. I dedicated a lot of time and financial resources into this because I think it is very important for humanity.

What does it mean to you to be the chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.?

During President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech in 1961, he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” In my generation, we were expected to help our country. When I was asked to take on the Kennedy Center job, I thought it would be a good thing, because I could help. I did not want to go into government full time. I had been asked to do that before but I did not want to.

In addition to the previously mentioned, you have also made other significant donations to the New York Public Library ($150m), Metropolitan Museum and Yale University ($150m), a football stadium... What is your understanding of philanthropy?

I am involved in different types of philanthropy. I like creating very large-scale projects that have never been done before, consistent with my book. I do the same with philanthropy. I ask myself if there is something I can create to help resolve a big problem. Actually, I do not really consider it philanthropy. I start by asking: “What is good for society?” before backing into important financial commitments. Together with my wife, Christine, we have ended up being the largest donors to Catholic schools in the United States. I am not Catholic but the schools are great. Only about 50% of the children who go to these schools are Catholic: 90% are minorities, 70% are on the poverty line or below and 98% of them graduate.

 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué 

 Stephen Schwarzman during the interview with Elena Cué

 

 

- Interview with Stephen Schwarzman -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford. Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

 Nick Bostrom. Montreal 

Nick Bostrom. Photo: Allen McEachern

 

The Swedish philosopher is one of the most influential in the field of superintelligence. He is the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.


Transhumanism explores the possibility of improving physical, emotional and cognitive human condition through scientific and technological progress. I speak about this intellectual, scientific and cultural movement with philosopher Nick Bostrom (Sweden, 1973), founder of the World Transhumanist Association together with David Pearce and one of the most influential thinkers in the field of superintelligence. He is also the director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the Governance of Artificial Intelligence Program at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than 200 publications, "Human Enhancement" and "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", bestseller of the “New York Times” and strongly recommended by Bill Gates and Elon Musk.


What led you to create the World Transhumanist Association?

Well, it happened in the 90s. At that time, it seemed to me that there was no adequate forum to discuss the impacts of the emergence of future technologies and how they may affect the human condition. Back then, the emphasis was mainly on the negative. Most of the relevant topics were not discussed at all and the few discussions on academic bioethics always focused on the inconveniences, such as possible dehumanization by using technology to enhance human capacities. There needed to be another voice. The association was an attempt to create a platform which fulfills this demand.

And what about today?

I have not been involved for many years. In the early 2000s, these problems found a voice and were developed in the academic field. Thus, the organization was no longer a necessity.

There is talk about artificial intelligence attempting to develop a conscious intelligence in order to learn in the same way humans do. What can you tell us about this?

I think that a lot of the excitement over the last eight years is due to advances in deep learning; which is a particular focus of AI. This way of processing information is, in many ways, similar to how our human mind works. Excitement is created because it seems to be a more "general" way of structuring intelligence, a type of algorithm that has the general ability to learn from data (big data), learn from experience, and build representations from a pattern present in such data that has not been explicitly pre-programmed by humans. This new concept points to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

Can you give an example?

The same algorithm that can learn to play one Atari game can learn to play other Atari games. With small modifications, it can learn to play chess, Go, how to recognize cats in images and to recognize speech. Although there are limits to what can be done today, there are indications that we might be reaching the type of mechanism that provides similar flexibility to that of human intelligence, a type of general learning capacity.

Some voices are more skeptical.

If you look at the systems that are used in the industry, they are still a kind of hybrid. In some cases, these modern deep learning systems are specifically used for image and voice recognition, but many other systems employed by companies continue to be mainly expert systems with a domain specific purpose while following the old school model. This contributes to the confusion.

When do you think molecular nanotechnology will exist, making it possible to manufacture tiny machines that could be inserted into our organisms and thus eradicate many diseases and prolong life?


It's a good question... I believe that nanotechnology will probably be viable after the development of artificial superintelligence. The same goes for many other advanced technologies, which could be developed by using superintelligence for research and development. However, there could be a scenario in which molecular nanotechnology is developed before artificial intelligence takes off. In that case, the first applications would present risks that we would have to survive and if we succeed, we would have to survive the risks associated with superintelligence, once it is developed. Therefore, if we were to be able to influence the order of the development of both technologies, the ideal goal would be to obtain superintelligence before molecular nanotechnology.

Another way to prolong life would be through cryonics. More than 300 people have their bodies cryogenically frozen or their brains preserved in nitrogen. You registered for this service, what prompted you to do so?

Actually, in the interactions I have had with the media, I have never confirmed I did. My stance has always been that my funeral arrangements are a private matter. I know there have been speculations in a newspaper two years ago... It is also true that some of my colleagues are cryonics clients, and they have made it public, like Dr. Anders Sandberg, who is one of our researchers here.

With cultural diversity and different moral codes worldwide, how can we reach a global consensus on ethical limits in genetic research?

For the moment, humanity does not really have a single coordinated plan for the future. There are many different countries and groups, each one pursuing its own initiatives.

From what you say, foresight is essential.

If you think about the development of nuclear weapons 70 years ago, it turned out it was hard to make a nuclear bomb. You need highly enriched uranium or plutonium, which are very difficult to get as you would need industrial sized power plants in order to make them. In addition to that, a huge amount of electricity is needed, so much so that you could see it from space. It is a hard process. It is not just something you could do in your garage. However, let us suppose that they had discovered an easy way to unleash the energy of the atom; that might then have been the end of human civilization as it would have been impossible to control.

It is worrying to think.

Yes, it would be in these cases that perhaps humanity would have to take steps to have a greater capacity for global coordination in case such vulnerability arises or a new arms race emerges. The more powerful our technologies are, the greater the amount of damage we can cause if we use them in a hostile or reckless manner. At this point, I think this is a great weakness for humanity and we just hope that the technologies we discover do not lend themselves to easy, destructive applications.

Recent studies have shown that graphene can effectively interact with neurons. What do you think about the advances in the development of brain-machine interfaces (communication zones) that use graphene?

It is something exciting from the point of view of medicine and people with disabilities. For patients with spinal cord damage, it has several promising applications such as the neuro-prosthesis. However, I am slightly skeptical that it enhances the functionality of a healthy person sufficiently to make it worth the risks, pains and problems of a surgical intervention.

Do you think it is not worth it for a healthy person?

It is quite hard to add functionality to a healthy human mind that you could not get, in a similar way, by interacting with a computer outside of your body, simply typing things on a keyboard or receiving inputs through your eyeballs by looking at a screen. We already have high bandwidth input and output channels to the human brain, for instance, through our fingers or through speech. It is much more relevant to find a solution to how to access, organize and process the vast amount of information available with the limitations of the human brain. That is the bottleneck of the problem and it is where the focus of the development should lie.

In your book Superintelligence you comment that the artificial intelligence research project begins at Dartmouth College in 1956. Since then there have been periods of enthusiasm and regression. At present, it seems that the biggest advocate for the creation of a post-human AI is Ray Kurzweil, founder of Singularity University and financed by Google. Do you think they will achieve their objective this time?

I do not think Ray Kurzweil is the leader in research of AI. There is a big global research community with many important people making significant contributions and I do not think he plays a significant part in most of them.

Would such research be aimed at replicating the human brain including consciousness?

Artificial intelligence is mainly about finding ways to make machines solve difficult problems. Whether they do so by emulating, assimilating, or drawing inspiration from the human brain or not, is more of a tactical decision. If there are useful insights that can be extracted from neuroscience, they will be taken advantage of, but the main objective is not to try to replicate the human mind.

I thought a posthuman project already existed…

If you are referring to the Human Brain Project, then yes. It might be a little bit closer to trying to emulate various details and levels of the human condition. I have the impression that it initially began with a very ambitious vision and probably excessive expectations, with very detailed models of a cortical column. However, after several dissonant voices, it has become a funding channel for several neuroscience projects.

You mentioned that with superintelligence (on a human level) we can obtain great results but at the risk of human extinction.

I think superintelligence would be a kind of general-purpose technology, because it would make it possible to invent other technologies. If you are super intelligent, you can do scientific or engineering work much faster and more effectively than human scientists and engineers can. So imagine all the things that humans could achieve if we had 40,000 years to work on them; perhaps we would have space colonies, upgrades in our organism, cures for aging and perfect virtual realities. I think all of these technologies, and others we have not thought of yet, could be developed by machines of superintelligence and perhaps within a relatively short amount of time after its arrival. It gives us an idea of the vast amount of potential benefits.

What would be the “existential risks” we would face with artificial intelligence?

I see two types of threats. The first one arises from a failure to align objectives. You are creating something that would be very intelligent and powerful at the same time. If we are not capable of finding a way to control it, we could give rise to the existence of a super intelligent system that might prioritize attaining its own values to the detriment of ours. The other risk is that humans use this powerful technology in a malicious or irresponsible way, as we have done with many other technologies throughout our history. We use them not only to help each other or for productive purposes, but also to wage wars or to oppress each other. This would be the other big threat with such advanced technology.

Stephen Hawking called for “expansion to space” and Elon Musk’s company Space X expects to send people to Mars in the near future. What do you think are the reasons we will be forced to migrate to other planets? Could humans live on Mars?

At this moment in time, Mars is not a good place to live. A meaningful space colonization will happen after superintelligence. In the short term, it seems very unattractive; it will be easier to create a habitat at the bottom of the sea or on top of the Himalayas than to do it on the Moon or Mars. Until we have exhausted this type of places, it is difficult to see the practical benefit of doing so on Mars. However, in the long term, space is definitely a goal; Earth is a small crumb floating in an almost infinite expanse of resources.

 

 Nick Bostrom 92 

 Nick Bostrom 

 

 

- Interview with Nick Bostrom -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

  IMG 9032 

Photograph: Waltraud Forelli

 

With twilight beginning to fall on the little French village of Barjac, I began my tour of La Ribaute ~ 40 hectares of the German artist Anselm Kiefer's making ~ which would conclude at sunset the following day without me having managed to visit all the towers, over and underground tunnels, crypts in a permanent state of transformation, an amphitheatre and pathways planted with sculptures that make up this extraordinary place, a place that is emotive for its grandeur, for its limitless space and for its eerie mystery.    

Anselm Kiefer is one of the most relevant artists of today.

 

I come back from the amphitheater extremely impressed. In fact, I am overwhelmed by everything. I will need a lot of time to assimilate it all. 

The amphitheater developed in the same way a painting does. I had a big wall where all the big paintings are, and I thought, why not have a little grotto inside. So, we made some containers, we put them together to form a niche, we continued one floor after another and it worked just like a drawing, step by step.

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue anfiteatro 

Amphitheatre. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were born in 1945 in the twilight of World War II.

I was born in the cellar of a hospital. That is where my mother gave birth to me and that same night our house was bombed.

Your toys were ruins and bricks, which you have gone on to use in your work, both as materials and as concepts. Are you still playing with those ruins?

Ruins are the most beautiful thing and because children do not judge, they just take them and play with them. They are for me not an end but a beginning. Sometimes, I knock down a tower by dismantling a piece just to watch how it falls. It is beautiful to see a tower, from which the keystone has been removed, reflecting if it wants to fall, how it hesitates; then everything goes very quick and with great noise to the ground. The feeling is comparable to that of starting an airplane. Full throttle is engaged. The airplane quivers with the power that wants to bring it forwards while the brakes still hold it in place, the machine, getting faster and faster, finally lifts itself into the sky. 

At a time when Germany was spiritually and materially devastated, what were the values you grew up with?

I had a very authoritarian education because my father was an officer. On one side there was the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church and on the other, that of my father who was also my teacher. But my father also showed me the painters that were ostracized during the Third Reich and, in the earliest years of my childhood, lead me to painting and drawing.

You said that  building Barjac  was something that rebelled in retrospective. First was the experience and then the concept...

If you mean whether my work follows a thought out concept then the answer is: of course. I always have a concept, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to start. However, during the work and over the course of days, weeks or years, the concept changes. The concept is necessary but not important.


What do you feel when you look at La Ribaute?

I feel it is unfinished. 

 Anselm Kiefer Elena Cue La Ribotte 

La Ribaute, Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What particular need led you to build something so unique in Barjac?

When I moved to France, my idea was to no longer have assistance from anybody. I didn’t want an office, I wanted to simplify my practice and to do everything on my own. I wanted to make very light paintings that I could roll and take anywhere. I wanted to work by myself, without any assistance. It was like a cultural revolution. Leave everything behind you, stop painting and start over again!

Here architecture, paintings, sculptures, and even music concerts come together. Are you trying to recreate Wagner’s concept of Total Work of Art?

I do not use the word “gesamtkunstwerk”. It has an uncomfortable connotation. I would rather speak of a work in progress. The most important is not the result but the ephemeral, the ever flowing, that which does not come to an end.

In 2011, you designed the scenography for the opera Elektra at the Teatro Real in Madrid. Do you intent to collaborate on another opera?

Yes, when the right piece, and a director with whom I share an aesthetic, come together. Klaus Michael Grüber, with whom I collaborated on Oedipus at Colonus at the Burgtheater in Vienna and Elektra in Naples, was for me a great match. He, unfortunately, passed away during pre-production.

You have said that in your childhood boredom helped you become a philosopher. Do you think that a state of boredom could be really creative?

Boredom is the beginning of philosophy. If you are active, you do not reflect. Heidegger has a lecture series on boredom. He says when you are invited to an event and it is a little bit boring, you become aware of the fact you are. It becomes clear what it is to be.

Which philosophers do you identify with?

Roland Barthes, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Martin Heidegger, Leibniz, Carl Schmitt, Gustav Radbruch, Feuerbach…

What is it that normally forces you to think and create?

I do not paint because the canvas is empty or because I have nothing else to do. I start painting when I have a shock. When I am overwhelmed by something that moves me, something that is greater than me. It can be a real experience with a person, a landscape, a music piece or with a poem. Critics say that I aim to overwhelm but in reality, I am the one who is constantly overwhelmed. That is what happens when I start to work. If you are not feeling overwhelmed, why are you alive? We are here to be overwhelmed otherwise, there is no reason to be.

Where does your inspiration come from?
If you ask writers, they will tell you that all the material they have comes from their childhood. The same is true for me.

You said that you have always been drawn to the impossible. How many times have you tried to achieve the impossible?

You cannot achieve the impossible. You can only dream of it and try it. The word achievement is difficult because it is always a process. I could never say something is an achievement; it is only in our heads.

Your work is full of mythological references from Germany, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and Kábbalah, among others. Have you found an element of unity between them?

Yes, all mythology is connected. For example, the Norse legend of Wayland the Smith, who was captured by the king and could not escape. That same legend exists in Egypt and Northern Germany. You can find connections in all of mythology.

You have been labeled as one of the biggest representatives of neo-expressionism. What does this artistic style provide that others do not?

I am fundamentally against style.

 Anselm Kiefer La Ribotte Foto Elena Cue  

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What motivated you to include figurative objects such as submarines, sunflowers, tulips, etc, in your work? Why did you begin to combine painting and sculpture?

It is a question of reality. When I introduce an object, I do not create any additional illusion. What I make is what it is. Sometimes I want to be direct. Objects have their own spirituality.

Why did you choose painting instead of writing?

I cannot say that it was a conscious decision. It came to me this way. Throughout my career I have always had moments when I thought about writing a book. I have a lot of book concepts in my diary but I cannot say I have decided on one.

Then, is it a balance between writing and painting?

Yes, but it is not writing, it is rather experimenting with oneself. I do not write fiction or poetry. Poetry is something different; you arrange the words in a certain combination that has never been seen before.

What about painting?

It is recreation as well.

Do you reflect yourself better through painting than through writing?

Writing helps us analyze what we have done. Besides, it is a form of self-assessment.

Do you ask yourself if you are satisfied?

All the time.

How do you feel when you read your own work?

My writings are for me a way to remember. The new arises from memory.


And when you look at your paintings in retrospect?

Exactly like Paul Valery, sometimes I think they are marvelous, at other times they make me feel desperate. 

 La Ribotte. Barjac Anselm Kiefer Foto Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

You have said that art is closest to the truth. Could you explain this concept?

Art is even closer to the truth. It is truth.

Do you think that through art you are able to express who you really are?

I am not important. I am sometimes me and then many others.

The Holocaust is very significant in your work. It is depicted through a wide range of symbolism. What is your objective with the representation of the darkest moment in your country’s history?

When I was growing up, the Holocaust did not exist. No one spoke about it in the 60s. I felt that there was something hidden. By accident, I got a disc with the voices of Hitler, Goebbels and Goering. It was made by Americans in order to educate Germans. I was so fascinated by Hitler that I began to study. I wanted to know what it was all about.

Was it necessity or curiosity that prompted you to investigate it further?

It was curiosity. When you begin to study what happened during those times it is so horrible that it is hard to imagine. Only in 1975 in Germany did they finally start showing exactly what had happened during the Holocaust. Ever since then the Germans have been quite good at revealing it. The French are still hiding a lot of it. At the time, Austrians wanted no relation with anything German. An Austrian journalist complained to me that I put Austrians and Germans in the same category. Back then Hitler was surprised as he thought he would have to fight Austria in order get an unification. It turned out they all wanted it already. They were even more efficient and accurate with their Jewish lists than the Germans. The French forcefully sent about 100,000 people to work in the German weapon industry. I never believed that there was a point zero. Democracy was first brought by the Americans.

During the keynote address of your lecture series at the Collège de France, you said that you learned most about art through reading The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet. Could you explain why?

I was so overwhelmed by his writing. He literally turned everything upside down. He would take the most honorable thing you could do and stick it deep in the swamp, whilst the most horrible thing, for example, to kill someone, he considered a piece of art. He turned everything upside down and this was fantastic to me.

You said: “The alchemy of transforming the abject into art is the true magic”. Why are you so attracted to alchemy?

Alchemy is the first step to science, chemistry and physics. It is the teaching of transmutation. It is also a spiritual movement. People always say that alchemists try to turn lead into gold but the real alchemists do not want to do that. It is a picture to transform yourself on another level. Alchemists are the first natural scientists.

 Anselm Kiefer la Ribotte Elena Cue 

La Ribaute. Barjac. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

You were photographed dressed as a woman for the work Jean Genet. You depicted women in  Les Femmes de la Révolution, Les Reines de France, Les Femmes de L'Antiquitié, en Margarethe y Shulamith. What do women represent in your work?

I am always overwhelmed by women and I think they are more connected with the roots of earth. They are more powerful than men.

You say that art should be subversive and disturbing. What do you think about the relationship between art and society?

I am going to refer to Jean Genet again. He is subversive because he preaches that stealing and killing are the best things; that you have to become a traitor. Art can never be moralistic. Art cannot be a judgement of society because morals are connected to the times. Let us go back to the times of Greek democracy. In those days you could have slaves. Even Aristotle said that in order to be a good philosopher you have to be rich and have slaves. It is all connected with certain times. Artists should not be connected with a specific moral behavior.

You have spoken extensively about the artist being a destroyer and a creator. It is key in your work. Could you elaborate on this concept?

The artist is an iconoclast, he or she destroys all the time. There is art and anti-art. If the artist is not an iconoclast then he is not really an artist. You can see it through the history of art. I destroy what I do all the time. Then I put the destroyed parts in containers and wait for the resurrection. 

The idea of infinity is implicit in your work and provokes a sense of the sublime. Do you intend to do so?

Eichendorff in his poem, sends his soul out in the world and then it comes back to him. It is a never-ending circle. I follow the philosophical system which includes emotion, will and reflection. Eichendorff describes a globe as a sphere; a kind of a sphere that gives immunity. Before you are born, you share a sphere with your mother, you are connected in the womb. This is the first sphere. Then the sphere gets wider as you meet more and more people. The romantic sphere is endless. It goes to the infinite and comes back.

 Anselm Kiefer. Elena Cue las mujeres de la revolucionjpg 

The Women Of The Revolution. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

The landscape with your figure in the middle of the Les Femmes de la Révolution room reminds me of Friedrich's landscape and the concept of the sublime. Do you look for the sublime?

It is not really my world. Who invented the word sublime?

The first to use that term was a Greek from the Hellenistic era, but it became popular at the beginning of our time, and among others Kant who wrote a book about the beauty and the sublime.

There is a wonderful quote by Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”

Are there things that have come to the surface through your work that you would have preferred to keep hidden?

No. There is so much that is hidden. You can reveal as much as you want and still never get to the center.

What is your opinion of the first Documenta and Nazi Degenerate art.

I looked through all the Nazi paintings and architecture and did not find a decent painting. I studied them all. I thought that there might be something hidden but they were all nonsense. However, architecture was different. It was not Nazi architecture per se, it was the architecture of the time because it was connected to tradition. You can see the same type of architecture in Paris and Rome. People wrongfully view that type of architecture as Nazi. For example, they say architecture should not overwhelm people. But why not? We are overwhelmed all the time, look at the stars, for instance. An architect must show this. I like Karl Marx Allee in Berlin.

 

 Anselm Kiefer elena cue LIBRERIA 

Library. Anselm Kiefer. Photo: Elena Cué

 

What is your relationship to books? What significance do books have in your life and work?

Books I have made represent sixty percent of my work. I still have most of my earlier books as they were never really for sale.

And in relation to painting?

A painting is different from a book because you can stand in front of it and see an impression of something. When reading a book, you turn the pages; it is connected to time. I like to write books because I can show the process. When I do a painting, I always have a war in my head. At each stage of the painting I have a hundred different possibilities to choose from. For instance, when Picasso was stuck during the creative process he used to tell his wife, Francoise Gilot, to copy his painting so he can come up with a different outcome. When you are painting you always have to make decisions. As you make a choice to go a certain way, you give up a hundred other possibilities.

 

 

 Elena Cue entrevista a Anselm Kiefer 

 Anselm Kiefer with Elena Cué. Photo: Waltraud Forelli

 

                                                                                                                                                          (Introduction translated from the Spanish by Shauna Devlin)

 

 

 

- Interview with Anselm Kiefer -                                    - Alejandra de Argos -

Jack Ma ( China, 1964), founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, one of the leading tech companies in the world with Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. He is in the process of implementing five new strategies that will drastically disrupt the ecommerce market today. His goal is to start a transition and start delegating the steering wheel of his company to focus on what is truly important to him: philanthropy. Through his Foundation, Jack has one great plan: to rethink and disrupt the current global education system so that it can face the challenges of the digital era.

 Author: Elena Cué

 

Jack Ma Elena Cue9

Jack Ma. Photo: Elena Cué

Jack Ma ( China, 1964), founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, one of the leading tech companies in the world with Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. He is in the process of implementing five new strategies that will drastically disrupt the ecommerce market today. His goal is to start a transition and start delegating the steering wheel of his company to focus on what is truly important to him: philanthropy. Through his Foundation, Jack has one great plan: to rethink and disrupt the current global education system so that it can face the challenges of the digital era.

The Jack Ma foundation you started in 2014 gives support to schools in rural areas in China. What are your future plans in that area?

There are close to 40 million students and young people living in poor rural areas in China. I think the best way to help kids is to help their teachers. Teachers in rural areas have very poor conditions. They are not respected and no one cares about them. We are trying to build a system to encourage, inspire and support them. Another way to help teachers is to train their headmasters. Most teachers give up on teaching because they do not like their headmasters. Headmasters in rural areas have never received even an hour of training, so how could they inspire teachers? That prompted us to start this program.

Unfortunately, a lot of schools in poor areas do not have enough kids. Each school has about 15 students in each grade. We try to combine them and create boarding schools with over 100 students. Teachers love to go and teach there. China, Africa and a lot of developing countries are experiencing the same problem. We are developing a huge plan. We want to improve the model we have in China and then use it in other countries. The other thing is how we can use internet and technology to train students, teachers and headmasters. I am really interested in this type of education.

Another remarcable program of your foundation is the African Netpreneur Prize that awards one million dollars and is currently open to all African technological entrepeneurs. What are your goals with that initiative?

Africa needs three e’s: eGovernment, eEducation and eEntrepreneurs. An eGovernment will be efficient and transparent. eEducation would be the foundation. Then, If they have great entrepreneurs, they will improve Africa’s economy significantly. What we do is encourage entrepreneurs and turn them into the new heroes of Africa. We inspire them to hire more people, to be more creative, to improve the economy. Just like what China has done for the past 20-30 years. I have been working on entrepreneurships in China for more than 20 years. I have personally built six companies that are all very successful today. I figured out ways to train and develop people to be entrepreneurs. I want to encourage that in Africa. My foundation gives one million dollars to ten African entrepreneurs every year. The purpose is to create successful case studies for entrepreneurs in Africa. Regardless of the country, area, age and type of business. It is not all about technology. If you run a successful barber shop or a restaurant, you can still receive an award. We want to show Africa that there are a lot of entrepreneurs and there are many ways to upgrade them.

Considering the current exponential development of technology, transhumanism and artificial intelligence, what do you think should education be focused on in this new world that is coming?

My view is that the whole education system needs to be upgraded. Today’s education system was designed several centuries ago during the industrial period. It trains people to remember and calculate things; it makes people smarter and more hardworking. Unfortunately, we are moving from an industrial period to a digital one. Over the past 30 years we have been trying to make people like machines. In the next 30 years we will be making machines like people. The current education system trains people to compete with machines. 

Is not that an impossible battle?

Yes, there is no doubt in the digital age in which we live. The only way to succeed is to start teaching our kids to be more creative, constructive, innovative. This is the way the education system should follow. We have to train our kids not to have to best scores but to be the best version of themselves because no matter how hard you work on remembering and calculating things, a machine will always be able to do it much better than you will. If we do not change the way we teach, our kids will be in big trouble in the future. In the age of information explosion, we should teach our kids to have independent thought.

Now, the human beings worry a lot about artificial intelligence and robots...

But I do not. Robots are machines, they do not have a heart. They only have a chip. A chip can never dream like a heart does. The heart has love, dreams and creativity. If human beings only use their brains, no matter how hard we work, we will not be able to compete against the machines. Heart is about EQ and brain is about IQ. If we only compete with our IQ, we will be gone. We have to compete with our EQ and LQ plus our IQ. That is the educational system that the world needs.

 

Jack Ma 6 Elena Cue

Jack Ma and Elena Cué

 

What does creating the E-commerce world giant Alibaba Group mean to you?

What we want to do is not to just make E-commerce. Alibaba facilitates all aspects of business. During the industrial era, only big companies were successful. They had the money, resources, network and technology. However, 99% of the businesses worldwide are small businesses. So we want to help small businesses compete and be prosperous. Today, Alibaba does everything to empower small businesses and young people to grow. Our dream is through technology to enable that every small dream comes true. That is why we focus on marketplaces. We build logistics, financial and cloud computing systems. These are the systems that can improve any small business and make it competitive. In the beginning nobody believed my vision but in the past 20 years all companies that have used our marketplace and systems have gone on to be successful.

How are Alibaba and Aliexpress different from Amazon?

We are not an E-commerce company. Amazon is an E-commerce company. We are helping companies become E-commerce companies, to become Amazon. People think we are the Amazon of China but it is not the case. We believe that any company can follow the Amazon model. We help them deliver, pay and receive money, reach the market and have the same technology capabilities as Amazon. That is our vision and what we think the world will look like in the next 10 to 20 years. And for that reason we have been able to create companies like Ali Cloud, one of the leading cloud companies in the world, Ant Financial, one of the world's main financial companies or Alibaba City Brain, a mayor global solution for control and monitoring of all the systems of large cities through an Artificial Intelligence brain.

Amazon buys and sells...

We do not, we provide solutions to companies. If you have an IT problem, we offer you cloud computing. If you have a delivery problem, we provide the logistics. If you are having issues reaching the market, you can use our resources.

What changes of your "Five Big New" strategies do you consider will be the most important in the future?

In the next 10 to 20 years we will be moving into the new retail. It is redefining the way retail works. Offline shops are waiting for customers to come. New retail is offline and online combined. It is no longer you going to the shop, now the shop goes to you. New retail has new manufacturing as well. In the old days, manufacturing was about ideas and engineering, making a product and selling it in the market. Because of data, in the future we will know exactly what everybody wants so we will be able to tailor-make it. In the past it was B2C (business to consumer), now it is C2B (consumer to business). 
The financial system of the past was the big banks looking for a customer who would like to invest. In the future, we will empower every small business that needs money. As long as they have a good credit rating system, they will get finances. We are redefining the financial system.

Cloud computing and internet technology is going to replace traditional technology. In the last century the competitive advantage was oil, this century it is data. Without data, it is difficult to customize and be innovative. Data is very important. These are the five elements that we think are going to change the world significantly. At first, the retail and manufacturing industries will not like it. Successful people love yesterday. But successful people only represent 20% of the population. What we want to do is make 80% of people more successful while making sure everyone is competing for the future, not for yesterday.

How can Artificial Intelligence help humanity?

Every technological revolution brings a disaster. The initial intention is always good but the consequences are not. As I said in Paris and New York, the First Technological Revolution, directly or indirectly, caused World War I. The Second Technological Revolution again, directly or indirectly, caused World War II. Now we are in the Third Technological Revolution. If human beings do not respect it, embrace it and lead it into the right direction, we may have some big problems. If there ever is a World War III, it should be a war against poverty, disease and environmental issues. Humans should use technology to solve their problems instead of using it to become more powerful and compete against each other. That is crazy and stupid.

What is the greatest contribution of the current Technological Revolution?

The first technological revolution relieved human energy. The second relieved distance. The current one relieves the brain. It will bring challenges but it will make human life better. I am 100% sure about that. The only issue is how we are going to train and develop our current and future generations to be ready for it. If you are not ready for that technology, you will be scared. And with fear comes problem. It is not the young people or poor people who are worried about the technological revolution, it is the powerful rich people and developed countries. That is very interesting. Artificial intelligence is coming. You can not stop the new technology but you can change yourself and embrace it. Technology should be used for good deeds. Tech companies have to take responsibility. Especially companies like us, Google and Amazon. We have a big responsibility to care for issues like jobs, privacy, etc. Only then will we grow together.

The Alibaba Group continues to grow dramatically. What do you think has been the key to its success? 

First, you have to have a vision. Many companies tend to lose their vision as they grow. They always think about the current or next quarter. When you lose your dreams, you become a machine and human beings are not machines. In order to keep our company growing, we always think about the future. Compared to yesterday, we are big but compared to tomorrow, we are still a baby. The second key is people. You have to find the people that believe in the future. People who are innovative and are willing to work day and night. The third key is to respect your competitors. A competitor is not an enemy. If you think of your competitor as an enemy, it will be terrible for you. You have to learn from your mistakes and change yourself. I think I am lucky because I was trained to be a teacher. As a teacher you look at every student differently. You respect and love them for who they are. I have spent most of the past 20 years training and developing people. I think of them as generals fighting on the battlefield. We must believe in the future. It is important to know how to build a team as well. It is not about hiring the best people, it is about finding the right people who have the same vision and values as you. And then it takes time.

You said that the fact that 47% of your employees are women has contributed to your company’s success. In which ways do you think they did?

We no longer have 47% as we have just acquired two big companies with mostly male employees so that percentage lowered down a bit. I am giving my plea to the team so we can get back to those figures. If we have it below 33%, then we have a problem. I did not know we had so many female colleagues in the company until an American journalist asked me about it. I did not realize it at the time. Then I looked it up and realized it was true. More than 34% of our senior managers are women. That is a lot of women leaders. AliBaba became so popular on the internet. 15 years ago I told the team that the computer is all about code. However, it is not the computer talking to another computer, it is the people behind the computers communicating with each other. The computer is only a tool. We thought about making our services, software and products more human-like, more considerate. We found out that women do a better job on that. Women care about others much more than men. Unfortunately, men care more about themselves. Women care about their husbands, children, parents. They are more considerate. You need more people that care about others in your company. Women are more loyal as well. It is very difficult for other companies to steal them as employees. If you treat them fairly, they will be very loyal. We have so many great women leaders and employees at our company. Men think about what they can get. Women think about what makes them happy. In this century there will surely be more women leaders, not only in business, but in the world itself. The world will be more balanced.

You know women very well.

We have 700 million active buyers on our website every month. More than 70% of them are women. Women not only buy for themselves but for others. They are big shoppers but not necessarily always shopping for themselves. Look at what men are buying; they either buy things for themselves or a gift to impress a woman. That is human nature.

You have included the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, which you consider essential for your life, as part of your employees’ working day. Why is it so important to you? 

Tai Chi is a philosophy about balance. It is about hard and soft, fast and slow. This is the philosophy I like. No matter how strong you look, you should be very soft on the inside. If you want to live longer, you should not do much exercise. Turtles do not move but live very long. However, if you want to live a healthier life, you should exercise more. That is how health and longevity compare. Turtles have a lot of diseases but they manage to live longer because they save energy. A lot of animals who run fast, do not live long. That is the balance. When you create products for your customers, you should also have this philosophy in mind. A lot of young people love to move fast. If slow is done properly, it ends up being fast. This is the philosophy I want to bring to the company. In the western society young people like boxing. Boxing is fast but how many years can you do boxing? By 50 you are gone. With Tai Chi, when you are young it does not make any sense. But when you reach 50-60, you get a much more balanced body. I want to make companies live longer with a philosophy behind them. If you only live for the next quarter, forget it. If you want to live 100, 200 years, you need to think about the culture that will make you live longer.

The most important thing about a company are the employees ...

In our company we believe everyone should treat work happily but treat life seriously. I always say “Do not work too hard. Please work happily.” I hate when people work very hard. How can they last? Only when you are happy, you get creative and innovative and you last long. When you find the click of happiness, a fountain of ideas comes out.

You are a board member of The Nature Conservancy and you also built the Paradise Foundation in China. What is your involvement in the preservation of the environment?

I have been heavily involved in environmental issues for the past 10 years. I worry about the air, the water. I spoke a lot on the subject and pushed governments to do something about it. Now, the Chinese government is finally starting to worry about the environment so I’ve started to pay attention to the things that people do not see, i.e. education. When everybody starts to pay attention to the environment, then you should turn your attention to other issues. There are no accidents on a very crowded road as everyone is more careful. It is the street with no traffic where accidents happen. We are learning from the US and Europe and their experience with protecting the environment. What I want to do is wake up the consciousness in society. The protection of the environment is a huge problem. If we do not take measures, there are going to be problems for all of us. It is so contagious and needs to be controlled.

What do you think is the secret to be able to fulfill our wishes?

The secret is your will. You should seriously believe this will and not because other people believe in it or society thinks it is right. You have to believe it with your heart. Then you have to find the people who believe it and you have to take action. And you need time. It is not something that happens overnight. You have a wish you truly believe. You find a group of people that truly believes in your wish. You have to be ready to take action and make mistakes every day. And then time keeps on moving, things will change. It is not a one day change. A lot of smart people with values and vision fail because of the time aspect.

What do you think about our country Spain?

I love it. The first time I was here, it was a cloudy day but the second time and this trip it has been great. The weather, the people, the culture, the food. I think Spanish food is much better than French food. It is more natural and healthier. Your culture has a bit of adventurism, romanticism, dignity. It is amazing. Spain needs to be known by more people around the world. I consider myself lucky to have been here three times. I would love to come here more often. Since my first visit to Spain, I have always tried to come more often. When they ask me which is my favorite country abroad, I always answer Spain.

 

Jack Ma 2 Elena Cue

Jack Ma. Photo: Elena Cué

China has become one of the greatest world powers. What factors do you think have been key in the remarkable development of China?

In the past 40 years, what China has done is to start learning. Learning is so important. China used to be so closed. When a country or a person is closed, he/she refuses to learn from the others. What does close-minded mean? It means you refuse to learn new things. China opened its mind. We have learned from the US, Japan, Europe. Our people are so hardworking because we have been poor for so many years. For example, today in China, in a city like Beijing or Shanghai, if you take 100 young people, 90 of them can speak at least 20 English words. But if you go to New York or Washington and take 100 American young people, how many of them can speak a foreign language? Why? Because we have learned. Learning and hard work can change everything. The other factor is that China really respects knowledge. It is improving a lot. In the early days, we took on a lot of the outsourced low-end work from the US related to road work and clothes manufacturing. We did not care, we just wanted to do it. Everyone can be successful if he/she works hard. You do not care if it is big or small, you just do it. There are a lot of reasons behind China becoming the second largest economy. This is something that the world should see and respect. We are hard-working, we learn, we are open-minded. Of course, there are still a lot of things that China needs to improve. 

For example?.

China only just connected to the world in the past 40 years. USA, Europe and Japan have been connected for the past 100 years while we have just opened up. We do not have an international language in order to communicate. There are a lot of problems. It is the duty of people like me. I travel around the world in order to learn to communicate. I go back to China and tell people and businesses there. Today a lot of problems arise because a chicken is talking to a duck (Cantonese proverb: miscommunication due to a language barrier) They are very angry so they do not talk. There should be a language that they can use to communicate. People do not respect you because you have money but because you take responsibility. China has been learning to survive, to develop economically and to take responsibility. That is the big lesson that us Chinese are learning.

Thanks to Alibaba's and Ant Financial, China is today the most advanced financial service industry in the world. Among your achievements are having being able to have 100% security on all transactions, both on the front and back end. People do not need a wallet or a credit cards any longer, this has greatly increased the financial inclusion of the population and now you are able to pay using your face thanks to facial recognition. Could you tell me more about the "3-1-0" method of Ant Financial? 

This is a very good question. I started studying interfinancial issues 15 years ago. It was very interesting. At that time at Alibaba, I found an interesting opportunity online. A person wants to sell. He finds you but you do not know how you can buy from him. He offers you his product and demands your money. But if you give him the money and do not receive the product, you will be cheated. At the same time the seller is worried about getting the money himself/herself. I found that this kind of issue lasted for long and there was no solution. So I went to the bank and asked for help in order to solve this problem. The bank did not trust this model and thought our business is too small. I was frustrated so I decided to build our own financial system to be the export of service. I act as a middleman between buyer and seller. The buyer deposits his money to me. If he/she likes the product, I release the money. If he/she does not like the product, I give him his/her money back and return the product to the seller. That was a very simple model. Everybody at the time was telling me how stupid it was. I did not care if it was stupid as long as it worked. The government did not give us a license as there was no such model to use as a reference. I went to Davos World Economic Forum and heard Clinton speaking about leadership being about responsibility. It inspired me to take action. As it was such a simple and easy model, it became really popular. Everyone started to use it. There is even a bank that is using it now. The funny thing is that banks hate it. Normal banks need 500 people while we only need 15. Regular banks charge transaction fees of around 50 dollars while we can do that with 3 cents. In order to survive, you have to think about how to be quick, efficient and cost-effective so you can compete with the banks. The ‘310 model’ is open to everyone in China today. If any company wants to borrow money from us, they can apply through a mobile or a PC. Within three minutes of filling the forms our machine tells you if you are approved or not. The money will then be in your account within one second. It is all credit score based. No one actually touches the money. That means that people do not have to drink wine with bankers in order to get a loan. There is no bribery. We do not want our employees to talk to any of our customers because the data will tell us whether they are good or not. The banks were so scared for the past 10 years. You can borrow one cent from us. You can even borrow one minute. It is a disaster for banks. How can a bank give you a loan for just one minute? How can you borrow just one dollar? We can do that. It is so powerful. The more people do it, the more we know their credit score and the more efficient we get. Society started to trust in the credit system so it pushed people to behave right. Today, if you have an Alipay account, you can go to a hotel or rent a house and you do not have to deposit anything. Even mothers now ask to check their future son-in-law’s credit rating before a marriage takes place. We call it ‘Sesame Credit rating’. We gave loans to twelve million different businesses last year. The default rate is only 1.4% or 1.5%.

Very impressive. You are a generator of good ideas.

We enjoy our work. We really care about our customers. Our values are in the following order: number one are our customers, second, our employees and third, our shareholders. I went to the New York Stock Exchange where the number one value is the shareholders. One of the analysts told me that if he had known shareholders are number three on our values list, he would have never bought shares of my company. I told him he can sell our stock right away because this is our philosophy. We know that if we take care of our customers, they will take care of our employees. If we take care of our employees, customers will be happy and subsequently shareholders will be happy as well. Everyone knows that but no one is ready to say it out loud. Well, I am. When a problem arises, I care about our customers first.

According to your experience, what is the current state of the commercial relationship between the United States and China?

USA and China have some problems and this is very natural. We have had 40 great years of business partnership. We should find positive ways to solve these problems and we need to consider both sides. Competition and cooperation should be considered together instead of turning a competitor into an enemy. We should not solve a problem by causing another one. We have to always look positively. The bottom line is there needs to be a working relationship in place. When USA and Russia have a good relationship, it means world peace. When USA and China have a good relationship, it means prosperity.

 

I am grateful to Pelayo Cortina, thanks to whom it was possible to carry out this interview.

 

- Interview with Jack Ma -                              - Alejandra de Argos -

 
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