Nao, the French robot
30 March 2018

Artificial Intelligence: “Making France a leader”

On the occasion of the “AI for Humanity” conference at the Collège de France, the President of the Republic presented France’s ambitions and strategy with regard to artificial intelligence.

Development of artificial intelligence (AI) is a priority that the President of the Republic confirmed very early on by entrusting Cédric Villani with the task of laying the foundations of a French strategy on the subject. No other European leader has shown such proactiveness in this area.

Much more than simply a field of research, AI is one of the keys to tomorrow’s world. It is “not only a technological but also an economic, social, ethical and [therefore] political revolution”, Emmanuel Macron explained. Its mastery is therefore a major issue in achieving independence. The United States and China are already committed to the global race for proficiency in this disruptive technology. There is no time to lose.

In terms of employment, AI is bound to eradicate some jobs while creating others; what is certain is that it is going to make far-reaching changes in all professions. And it may well provide responses to such changes itself, by improving effectiveness of lifelong learning for example. It is therefore essential to master the technology concerned.

Its development raises important ethical questions (algorithm neutrality, use of private data and e-inclusion among them).

France has no lack of advantages to position itself as leader, including acknowledged excellence in mathematics and computer science. Many of the biggest digital companies’ heads of AI research are currently French.

In order to take full advantage of such assets, the strategy presented by the President focuses on four major challenges:

1. Reinforcing the AI ecosystem in order to attract the very best talents

  • Setting up a national AI programme coordinated by the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA);
  • Doubling the number of students with training in AI by the end of the five-year term;
  • Strengthening synergies between public research and industry, with researchers devoting half their time to working in companies (as against 20% nowadays);
  • Creating individual research chairs to attract the best researchers, and launching calls for proposals to attract the best research projects.

2. Developing an open data policy, above all in sectors where France already has the potential for excellence, such as healthcare

  • Continuing to open up public and publically funded data;
  • Supporting creation of public and private data exchange platforms;
  • Developing a European framework for data use;
  • Creating a health data hub in the secure and anonymous context of the National Institute for Health Data (INDS).

3. Creating a regulatory and financial framework favouring emergence of “AI champions”, through provision of special support to AI research projects and startups

  • Adapting existing regulations, for driverless vehicles for example;
  • Financing: in France, €1.5 billion will be devoted to supporting AI; France will set the example in Europe via creation of a “European DARPA”;
  • Using AI to improve public policies, on lifelong learning for example (anticipation of needs, individualisation of learning pathways, etc.)

4. Giving thought to AI regulation and ethics, to ensure its development in line with the very best standards of acceptability for citizens

  • Supporting human sciences research on ethics of use;
  • Making all algorithms used by the State public, including Parcoursup;
  • Encouraging AI’s openness to diversity.
The strategy also take full account of the European context, as the European Union itself is also determined to become a major global actor in AI, with its own contributions to make, distinct from those of the United States and China.

Alongside the conference, a number of companies made announcements regarding location of AI research centres in France: IBM (400 positions within the next two years), Samsung (100 positions), Fujitsu, and DeepMind. These are in addition to announcements already made by Facebook and Google during last February’s Choose France! summit: Facebook announced planned investment of €10 million to double the size of its French AI laboratory, making it the largest in the world along with the New York laboratory, and Google announced it was going to invest in AI research in France with the opening of a fundamental research centre.