France’s president has promised major investments into artificial intelligence, as the country looks to compete head-on with the US and China
French president Emmanuel Macron is set to announce a major public investment into artificial intelligence (AI) this week, in an effort to make the country one of the world’s leaders in the field, alongside the US and China.
“On Thursday I will announce measures allowing France to consolidate its position as one of the world leaders in artificial intelligence,” Macron said at a Monday evening discourse before French industrialists, according to local media reports.
The 40-year-old, who was elected president in May of last year amidst promises to boost France’s start-up culture, recently formed a deal join forces with the UK on the digital economy and AI.
A presidential adviser told Reuters AI is a new “arms race” and that this week’s measures would be a major “offensive”.
“France missed the boat of all the latest technological revolutions: robotics, the internet. We have no giants in these fields,” the adviser said. “We will do what it takes to move to pole position.”
Macron is set to dine with international AI researchers on Wednesday night, before delivering an address on Thursday at the elite College de France research centre.
The adviser said AI is expected to give “a clear economic advantage to the top ones”, and cited France’s top rankings in mathematics as a key asset.
France produces the second largest number of recipients of the Fields Medal, the Nobel Prize of the mathematics world, behind only the US.
Yann Lecun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, and Luc Julia, vice president for innovation at Samsung Electronics and co-developer of Apple’s Siri digital assistant, are both French.
Google and Facebook both vowed earlier this year to invest in AI staff and labs in France.
Strength in numbers
France’s AI push is being developed along lines suggested by Cedric Villani, who won the Fields Medal in 2010 and is a member of Macron’s political party.
Villani told Bloomberg last week that Europe’s culture of privacy is the single biggest hurdle the region has to overcome in order to lead in AI development, since huge amounts of information is required to fine-tune such systems.
“Accessing data – that’s the number one challenge, the major hurdle,” he said. Villani said Europe must create “a single market that our big data actors can access”.
He said the necessary data sharing can be carried out in conditions of strict confidence. But he added that Europe must keep ahead of rivals if it wants to have to power to impose those controls.
The push for more data sharing comes at a difficult moment, however, with a scandal around Facebook’s data policies this week attracting an investigation by the US’ Federal Trade Commission.
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