A few years ago when asked to deliver the keynote speech at the FT’s Business of Luxury conference in Monaco, I thought deeply about the message that needed to be conveyed and the audience was no doubt surprised that the subject was not e-commerce. “Clicks versus bricks” was not on the agenda because that issue was dwarfed by something far more important and widely relevant: the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and the second machine age and its impact on the future of our world.
There are those who assure us that artificial intelligence is not a threat to society, but when machines can do everything from checking us out of supermarkets and driving us around, to analysing x-rays and diagnosing disease, it strikes me as irresponsible not to consider the alternative view. Even if the optimists turn out to be right – and it is certainly hoped they do – it only makes sense to assess the dangers of AI, especially those related to unemployment, and to ask ourselves: what can humans do better than machines?
For centuries, master artisans all over Europe have laboured at creating stunning creations: architecture graced with unrivalled stone masonry; woodwork sculpted into the loveliest shapes; fabrics and leather items one can possess for so many years that they feel like old friends; porcelain, glass and ceramics encompassing tradition and reflecting the environments from which they spring.
Europe has an incredibly diverse and talented body of master artisans which provides a straightforward answer to the question of what humans can do better than machines, and Homo Faber brings together just a fraction of this distinctive group of professions. The men and women who have contributed to this unique exhibition are a refreshing, inspiring alternative to robots and a world without work. They are also a beacon for our young generations which are also present in the exhibition in the role of Homo Faber’s Young Ambassadors.
And it’s fitting that this alternative view, one so steeped in beauty and intelligence, should be presented in Venice, a crossroads of culture and bastion of all things beautiful.