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This young and multi-talented French entrepreneur wants to see disruptive innovation transforming business and society as a whole, thanks to artificial intelligence.

His head may be in the stars, but his feet are on the ground – and they’re making rapid strides. Twenty-nine-year-old Alexandre Cadain is a young man with no time to lose and a mind-blowing CV. A graduate of HEC business school, the École normale supérieure (ENS) Grande École and the Sorbonne University, he already has an extensive professional track record: founder of an art gallery set up during his studies, responsible for a while for the development on the French side of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, co-organiser of the “Post-digital” seminar at ENS, ambassador for the XPRIZE Foundation, rapporteur to the UN’s AI For Good commission, and co-founder in 2017, together with Amir Banifatemi his former boss at the XPRIZE Foundation, of the Anima innovation laboratory.

“Beyond the futuristic and extreme discourse on artificial intelligence, AI can have an immediate and positive impact”

In unlocking the mysteries of teleportation, it would appear that Alexandre has acquired the ability to be everywhere at once! Indeed, this is a subject he touched on during his involvement in the Hyperloop project, a means of transport devised by Elon Musk for travelling at over 1,000 km/h, and as part of the latest Avatar project run by the XPRIZE Foundation. But the American entrepreneur’s crazy dreams don’t seem to have convinced Alexandre. “To go faster, you have to go straight ahead, in a blind tunnel which stops you from seeing other possible pathways; in the end, you make the world smaller,” he said at the TEDxParis talk entitled “What comes after the future?” which he gave in Paris on 6 November 2017.

Since then, he and his company Anima have preferred to explore other, collective rather than individual, pathways that serve the common good instead of concentrating on the superhuman. “For example, we are currently creating the AI Commons platform to enable economic and social players to share their data with artificial intelligence labs or other problem solvers in a decentralised way. This will help meet some of the challenges relating to the Anthropocene era that have become too complex for human analysis alone,” explains Alexandre.

Filling the gap

His mantra today is about contributing towards developing “artificial intelligence for good”, in other words “intelligence which opens up multiple pathways and which enhances us rather than reducing us to machines.” “Beyond the contradictory discourse on artificial intelligence, which is either negative and dystopian or positive and idealistic, there is a gap in which AI can have an immediate and positive impact. That’s what we’re working on, for instance by looking at ways with the UN to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, something we tackle each year with 33 agencies and dozens of labs,” he adds.

But as well as organisations like the UN, it’s businesses that Anima is targeting first and foremost. And here again, the young boss wants to see disruption replacing linear innovation: “The capacity to move from one stage to another by leapfrogging an intermediate stage – like a country moving from an agricultural economy to a digital economy without experiencing the industrial stage – is also very interesting to observe in a business environment. In a context of rapid changes and pressing environmental challenges, it must become standard practice for organisations to radically rethink their business activities in a way that contributes to a positive future.”

To execute all this, Alexandre is focusing on the moonshot technique, in which Paris and Los Angeles-based Anima specialises. A moonshot is an exploratory project that aims to produce a massive positive impact on society, involving one billion people, and that is carried out without any expectation of short-term profitability. The concept basically means addressing a meta-problem using a radical, creative approach that often relies on groundbreaking technologies. Hyperloop, Coursera, and Wikipedia are examples of moonshots.

Renaissance versus Singularity

“Anima is a moonshot studio. We produce breakthrough innovations that transform business and society as a whole, using technologies like artificial intelligence. Our work spans the preparation of the moonshot, from its conceptualisation right through to its design, architecture, and even implementation. Our core business involves determining the most appropriate partners and laboratories, for example for working on health prediction issues,” explains Alexandre. He has been building up and honing this expertise since 2016 within the XPrize Foundation as Europe ambassador for the IBM Watson AI Xprize project, an international competition aimed at developing new AI-related solutions.

Although the young entrepreneur’s portfolio of partners and clients already includes the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (National Centre for Space Studies), thecamp, La Poste, Chanel, Framestore, and Ubisoft, he hasn’t abandoned the ideals of his early days when, between 2013 and 2014, he travelled across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with three friends as part of an HEC social entrepreneurship programme, supporting projects relating to microcredit, solar power, and professional training. In a speech given by Alexandre at the HEC business school at the start of the 2017 academic year, he summed up his approach as: “Using technology for the good of humanity and its environment, based on a philosophy closer to a European Renaissance than Californian singularity.”

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