France's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe

Closing of the Tech for Good Summit

On 23 May 2018 the Tech for Good Summit held in Matignon brought together the world's leading technology companies. Its ambition: to reflect on technology's contribution to the common good. The Prime Minister was witness to the conclusions of the round tables (on the future of education, work in the era of artificial intelligence, equality, and diversity in the age of technology), and closed the summit.
 

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Maurice,

Eric,

Thank you for this introduction, Dara, Ginni and Bill, thank you for this brilliant, concise presentation in English.

Dara, you said that you'd only been in the job nine months, and that you should therefore remain modest. Well, I've been in my job twelve months so, although I have a great deal more experience than you at doing my job, I shall remain modest too, and sensible, which means I will be making my speech in French. Especially in light of the urgent call from Maurice, who believes that, in France, we should express ourselves in French.

"One may leap to heaven from the very slums". I didn't come up with that: Seneca did. Seneca, a Roman stoic philosopher who, quite obviously, was thinking about the digital economy when he wrote that maxim! Or, maybe not entirely for, despite his very great wisdom, he did not foresee or imagine everything, or not in my opinion at least. But, essentially, this maxim does seem quite apt for describing what you are living through, what we are living through, this incredible change that is reshaping the economy, our way of life, of thinking, of working – you have each said this – of learning.

It reflects quite neatly the idea that, thanks to this change, because of this change, everything is probably possible, anywhere, for anyone. Which is one way of conceiving the world as it is today, as it is taking shape, and is surely cause for great optimism on our part.

The changes we are going through, you are putting them into practice, you are accelerating them, sometimes you are initiating them, you know what they are and it is not my intention to dwell on them.

The US tech giants are often mentioned to illustrate the potential inherent in the changes taking place. That's all fine. Personally, I would rather focus on the countless micro-benefits for us individually which, when placed end to end, represent, worldwide, a value which is at least equal to the capitalisation of these companies. Being able to buy and sell services online, better plan journeys and optimise energy use, facilitate exchange – economic trade of course but also the exchange of ideas – enter a world where the immediacy and universality of exchange is almost possible (I say 'almost' because this still isn't completely the case across the entire length and breadth of the world's surface), being able to access medical care or teaching of an outstanding quality pretty much everywhere thanks to telemedicine and mass education via the networks: this opportunity is available to individuals, institutions, towns & cities, regions, States ... it is a unique opportunity. We are living at a unique moment in our History, as many others may well have done so before us, but we are living at a wholly unique moment in our History, a moment which, because of the lightning quick changes it is going through, is extremely condensed.

I mentioned Seneca. He was a Stoic, and a multimillionaire Stoic at that. Which, let's be honest, is arguably no bad thing when one wishes to be a Stoic. And proves that it is possible to be both super-rich and a philosopher, which is a good thing, that it is possible to have been successful in material terms whilst believing that such success requires us to think and also to act or to advise for the common good. I'll skip over the circumstances in which Seneca died, which are decidedly less glorious and happy, and by which I don't wish to set store as an example.

No, what Seneca essentially tells us is that it is possible both to be enormously successful and to care about the rest of society. We can imagine collective, generous and sustainable success stories. This is the route you have taken, and the message you have wished to send by accepting the President of the Republic's invitation to the "Tech For Good" Summit. I would therefore like to thank you for this constructive day, and for the clarity of the presentations that all three of you gave. I am told that seldom do so many global tech leaders all come together like this.

A word, if I may, about the link between technology, science and the world in which we are living. You are in France, a country which, in the 18th century, championed the idea that life could be better in a world where science had a central role to play. This is by no means unique to France, of course. But what is specific about the 1789 French Revolution is that it was a revolution – this is not typical – true, it was a revolution driven by reason, this is not typical, but it was also a revolution driven by science, with protagonists who showed that a new political, democratic, republican order had to be grounded in practice, in knowledge, in scientific research applied to the common good. We're talking about Lavoisier, Monge, Carnot, Condorcet. With the French Revolution came the metric system, which represents such a leap forward that it is impossible to overstate its merits, especially to those who have not yet put it into practice.

So, I have not formulated any thoughts on progress, for I do not feel qualified to do so – especially because there are so many other thinkers much better skilled than I. But I would like to share three beliefs with you on this subject.

First of all, like many of you here, I truly believe in freedom, in this capacity – which is at once extremely simple and utterly fundamental – to make a right or wrong decision. This is the very essence of such freedom. All of us here have experienced this as part of our responsibilities; at one time or another, we have a choice and this choice leads to consequences which can be very different.

The second belief, which follows on from the first, and of which I am often reminded by my son quoting one of the greatest philosophers of our time, is that "with great power comes great responsibility". I think this was first coined by an inspiring philosopher going by the name of Peter Parker. A very great philosopher. And I happen to think it's very true. There are political leaders here among us, and there are also many business leaders, corporate leaders with immense power, power to change the world, and who therefore have immense responsibility. This is something you have all said, and assumed, incidentally. That's the way it should be. But this very real, and sometimes daunting, power, and this responsibility, which is essential, must not be taken lightly.

Lastly, my final belief is that when something is not regulated – not that we need to be regulating everything – but when something is not regulated or organised, it can end up slipping beyond our grasp. When it comes to the digital revolution, the data revolution, this freedom, this responsibility and this requirement for a legal framework, which is what makes this freedom and this responsibility possible, really stood out to us and seemed essential in our eyes. Concerning regulation, Europe has laid down a framework, that of the GDPR which, yesterday, seemed to go against innovation for many of you perhaps – I don't know – for many people in any case, today, appears to be a standard which would be, desirable perhaps isn't the right word, but useful at international level to make sure we don't overstep our responsibility.

Some of you – I think this is the case for MICROSOFT – have decided to apply it to all their users. I can only encourage the whole ecosystem across the board to follow this example, since the key to acceptable and accepted progress is to be found in this balance between regulation and innovation.

So, to quote another philosopher, whom I'm not quite so keen on as the one I have just quoted: "What is to be done?" Lenin this time. I'm not really sure he was a philosopher. But regardless, he did say: "What is to be done?" And we are entitled to ask ourselves the same question, without necessarily coming up with the same answer.

What is to be done in a State's position, when it finds itself having to contend with a revolution on such a scale? The first thing to do is to protect its citizens, to protect them effectively. Protecting them then, not by building walls, rigid barriers – the very relative effectiveness of which, in France since the Maginot Line, we are well familiar with.

The best way to protect ourselves is to acquire the right methods, the right reflexes, the right strategies, the right tools, and to accept reality for what it is. The President of the Republic was able to make this point during his speech on artificial intelligence. If we want to be able to influence the course of world events, of technology and the economy, we need to play an active part in these changes. This is what we have been trying to do for a year now, with the President of the Republic: by preparing France, sometimes rectifying it, and setting it back on track, in the same direction the world is going in, towards a hyper-agile economy and unbridled innovation.

By setting in motion all of our economic reforms to unlock energy, to attract investment, to facilitate work, and to give our French citizens back the desire to take risks and to embark on undertakings. By updating our Labour Code in line with the expectations of entrepreneurs and employees, so that it now provides for new forms of protection and flexibility. By investing massively in the future and in training – you said yourselves that the number one question, the number one asset, is skills; the number one subject was skills, this is absolutely right and it is why we are intending to invest sums which, from the point of view of France and the point of view of public budgets, are quite considerable in artificial intelligence, as well as in the necessary retraining, upskilling and constant adaptation of the skills of our fellow citizens. The subject is the challenge of intelligence and therefore of skill.

This is why we are reforming schools, currently from primary level and tomorrow from infant school level. It is why we are reforming our high school/A level system. It is why we are reforming university education. It is why we are reforming apprenticeship and it is why we are reforming vocational training, because it is at every stage of life that the crucial issue of intelligence is at stake, the ability to change one's skills and the ability to learn; this is the bottom line.

Public digital policy is also paramount. Guaranteeing access to high-speed broadband nationwide by 2022: there are a certain number of stakeholders committed to these investments here today, and I applaud their efforts and tell them that we vow to uphold our demanding stance (i.e. the ongoing digitisation of all administrative procedures). In short, our country, our Government, our State is busy reforming across all areas to ensure they now take on board what is considered standard practice, what strikes as perfectly evident for a number of the companies you run or work for.

Protecting also means ensuring that the 13 million French citizens who, for all manner of reasons, do not have access to the Internet, can connect to the digital world. A while ago the President of the Republic asked the Government to craft a national digital inclusion strategy.

There is nothing incidental or trivial about this. Whilst I understand how it might seem odd to say so here – although not as strange as all that, since I believe you are all perfectly aware of it –, we need to make sure that access to this new world is not simply limited by access to equipment, that will come, but that it comes hand-in-hand with considerable efforts so that those who, out of choice, prudence or concern, might wish to distance themselves from it, can, if they so wish, if they are able, when they wish and when they are able, also have access.

I believe I am right in thinking that, in the world of startups – you all head up startups, some of which have been hugely successful, some have done extraordinarily well it must be said –, the notion of pivoting sometimes crops up. Well, this is what we are trying to do in France, we are trying to get France to pivot. This is a wholly worthwhile exercise, and an exercise which is entirely possible. We can pull off the transition, we can pull off this pivot, if that's the right way to say it, this pivot which France is in some ways braced for and which France needs if, once again, it wants to set itself on the very best course for seeing the world for what it is and for what it is becoming.

France has a lot of strengths, and I will not bore you by going back over them, one by one, not least because I could forget some. But we have assets in terms of training, in terms of doing business, in terms of ecosystem, and in terms of applied and fundamental research. We have everything it takes to be able to look at the world with confidence. So we are looking at it with confidence, and we are trying to move forward in the right direction.

A few words, briefly, on the three themes we have worked on, during what might be described by that well-known French term, "workshops". You have worked on themes to do with the notion of inclusion and community, and I think this is worthwhile, since progress that only benefits the few, or only benefits the few to the detriment of the many, may, legitimately, not be deemed progress.

Progress that would benefit the few to the detriment of the many, could probably be termed an oxymoron, i.e. an expression which seems to have opposite meanings, which seems to contradict itself. In any case, it would constitute an imbalance, a risk therefore, and it is hard to see what the purpose would be of a connected economy which, whether in the short or long term, is completely out of step with the way the world really is.

So what is real progress, then? First of all, it is progress which reaches everyone, on a global scale, so that other individuals, other people, other nations, can also reap all of the micro-benefits that I mentioned earlier. It is clear, in a certain number of countries which are sometimes described as developing countries – even though in my view this is a fairly dated term now, I'm not sure it is the most appropriate or the most accurate in light of reality today –, that technology evidently has a key role to play in bolstering development.

Viva Tech has placed considerable emphasis on Africa this year. This is a good thing, it is a very good thing, and above all it is quite simply a sign of something that is an unbelievably powerful yet sometimes little-known phenomenon: that technology, technological development is a source of solutions, and proving instrumental in the transformation and stupendous growth of the African continent. I have no doubt you can see it, I have no doubt you are experiencing it, and I hope that all those of you out there who are listening in are aware of it, for part of the changes the world is going through are playing out right there. Part of the changes the world is going through, its security, its wealth and its stability are playing out in this technological transformation, and particularly this transformation and this technological adaptation in Africa.

But the same obviously goes for the Western nations too, for those countries already experiencing robust economic growth. These changes, they have long-term implications for our economies, for our skills and for our occupations. So we are going to have to train individually, massively – you've said so yourselves, we know this. In this regard, the digital revolution is both a help and a hindrance, because it is not the solution to everything when it comes to training. There always has to be an element of human contact, of individual emulation, of discussion, in training. This cannot be completely missing; it needs to be associated with the digital revolution, with the digital transformation.

Finally, creativity. You've said as much yourselves, audacity has no colour, gender, age, or fundamental characterisation incidentally: it is universal and we need to be on the look-out everywhere – or at any rate far beyond our circle and our preconceptions – for this creativity, this audacity, this individual asset. Tech cannot simply be the business of Ivy League schools or France's top graduate schools. It is also that, but it cannot be only that – if it were, it would doom itself to fail, it would be all the poorer for it, it would be completely switched off from society, from reality and would probably be much less efficient.

Your pledges – I am thinking particularly of SAP's commitments –, your recommendations show that you are ready to set the example. This is good: say what your intentions are, act on them and show the way. In France – I don't know if this is the case everywhere – but in France, there is still some form of doubt or reluctance felt, unfounded in my view but expressed for all that, about the capability of your giant corporations to really embody this capacity to harness and showcase all skills, however diverse they may be.

I say this calmly without seeking to lecture, for I am in a reliable position to know that the State is no more capable of demonstrating this. But we have a common challenge to take up, we have a common challenge for the sake of our own effectiveness and for the sustainability and acceptability of this progress.

Real progress is progress which provides or enhances a particular freedom, that of working independently perhaps, which enhances freedom without taking away a particular safety net. I said that this progress could not benefit some to the detriment of others. I don't believe it can be anything other than the provision of freedom, without amounting to the removal of a safety net. I have nothing against self-employment, I see that for many this is a means of integrating, of juggling a family and a career, of supplementing your income, of finding a solution to a problem. But this self-employment must not constitute a means of circumventing the collective rules to which we are incidentally committed, on which we depend for the stability and development of our societies.

So these rules need to be adapted at times when they run counter to the end goal, but freedom and protection must also come into the equation, otherwise we need to be careful of how the public – who obviously have their opinions as regards elected representatives, but also things to say about companies – will react. In this regard, I would like to applaud UBER's and DELIVEROO's initiatives, which are both pledging to guarantee decent health cover for their drivers and riders. Here again, this is more than just a trivial gesture, it is a wholly commendable initiative. Sure, it doesn't settle the matter, but it does represent a turning point, a turning point which shows that technology and platforms do not have to be synonymous with job insecurity. A turning point for companies which, after operating a little close to the boundaries, have chosen to assume their responsibility, and this is the way it should be.

What your working group has also made clear is that we need to have a joint framework and vision and that, we, public authorities and private companies, therefore need to be working more closely together.

Lastly, real progress, it's something we can debate, but it's progress whose consequences we already anticipate, or at any rate progress whose potential consequences actually matter to us. I'm not sure it is possible to anticipate every single consequence of progress that might be made, but I am certain that if we do not give any consideration to its consequences, this can lead to problems: consequences on the environment, on health cover, on State security, on individual safety, on public opinion and on the political systems the people have freely chosen, on demography, and with the development of fake news – we have seen this happen.

This represents another challenge then, that of training, of training future generations. The Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, will also draw on the recommendations you have outlined, but is already working in this direction. We need to educate through technology but also in technology. We need to rethink our education system, train training leaders and tap into the opportunities offered up by technology so that we are not only able to benefit from these products but also explain them, understand them in their context, learn how to use them, learn how to question them, so as to never lose – over and above technology and the helping hand it gives us – our common sense, our sense of questioning and doubt, for we French know that when we doubt, we think, and when we think, we are.

It's a tough one, Ladies and Gentleman. I have already quoted a fair few philosophers, and I'd like to end with a poet: Paul Valéry, a French poet who cautioned against entering the future backwards. So let us indeed take care not to enter the future – and this future world of change – backwards. Let us look it in the eye instead, let us seize it as an opportunity, you said so yourselves, let us weigh up both the questions it is raising and the opportunities it represents. Let us learn from experience, discuss it, share and combine experiences, those of entrepreneurs, those of all the countries worldwide, those of political leaders, so that, together, we are able not only to innovate for the common good – as this banner says – but also prepare the world we wish to live in.

Thank you.