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Barack Obama
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Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

2024, the year of the human factor

Barack Obama’s Christmas greeting gives off a powerful message of vindication of the simple, of a return to the essential

Barack Obama Christmas
Screenshot of the Christmas greeting video published by Barack Obama on X.
Carmela Ríos

Among the dozens of greetings with which celebrities, sports entities, governments, or institutions sent us Christmas best wishes from their social networks, the one that stood out for me was that of Barack Obama. Perhaps you will be disappointed, because you will not find anything particularly striking in it. The former U.S. president appears standing in an austere room decorated with a pair of poinsettias. Wearing a gray sweater and a Santa Claus hat, Obama reminds us, in a 45-second video, of the importance of participating in the lives of those around us and collaborating with those communities closest to us, the strongest support networks in difficult times. A simple piano melody accompanies Obama’s words, which end when he holds up a pink banner bearing two words: “Merry Christmas.” From a staging point of view, the video is rudimentary, with no editing, an innocuous backdrop and a sequence shot of a man speaking into the camera lens. However, it gives off a powerful message of vindication of the simple, of communication with a human dimension, of a return to the essential.

Obama’s reflection is neither accidental nor isolated. Safeguarding the human factor is perhaps the only formula to face these times, in which the pace of evolution and the emergence of new technologies is impossible for most people to manage. French journalist Bruno Patino defines this reality perfectly with the word that provides the title to his latest essay: Submersion. We end 2023 submerged, overwhelmed in a flood of information that large digital platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok pump incessantly onto our cell phones, chasing our attention. Information and fake news are hopelessly mixed in the face of the lack of will and means to combat the disinformation of the great lords of the web. This promiscuity threatens the very concept of truth and represents a continuous attack on one of the bedrocks of Western democracies: the right to information.

One of the questions we will have to answer in 2024 is whether the new generation of smaller, decentralized social networks such as Bluesky, Mastodon, or Threads will keep alive or definitively bury the dream of global communication and knowledge-sharing without hate speech. But these changes may turn out to be insignificant because behind them comes a much bigger wave. Artificial intelligence, already installed in our cell phones, is rapidly mutating and offers us the possibility of accessing all human knowledge, including the ability to write, design, program, paint or photograph. We can produce until we bury ourselves in content. Once again, submerged by a wave we did not see coming.

2024 offers us the challenge of navigating this wave, opening ourselves to its immense possibilities by applying the same paradigm as Obama: the return to the essential. As Patino reminds us, we need to train both philosophers and engineers so that large-scale vision is joined by human-scale vision in artificial intelligence. The exercise of reflection, pause and silence has never been so necessary. Discernment, as opposed to letting go, “will be the way to surf submersion and make it controllable. In all areas. Starting with information and our relationship with reality,” says the essayist. The vindication of the human factor is the best gift to welcome this uncertain, exciting and disruptive 2024.

Have a great year.

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