France Bets Big on Artificial Intelligence


French President Emmanuel Macron gave a major speech this week in which he laid out the country’s new strategy for championing Artificial Intelligence. The French government will spend close to $2 billion over the next five years to encourage startups, fund research and collect data that can be used by engineers in the AI space. The goal, Macros says, is to make sure that France is a first-mover in the industry.

“I think artificial intelligence will disrupt all the different business models and it’s the next disruption to come. So I want to be part of it. Otherwise I will just be subjected to this disruption without creating jobs in this country…as always the winner takes all in this field. So that’s why my first objective in terms of education, training, research, and the creation of startups is to streamline a lot of things, to have the adaptable systems, the adapted financing, the adapted regulations, in order to build champions here and to attract the existing champions,” Macron said in an interview after the speech.

Two areas where Macron sees immediate potential in AI are healthcare and mobility. In healthcare access to big data and new technologies can change the way patients are treated. Not by replacing doctors, Macron says, but by coming up with predictive models that can prevent disease and reduce potential risks.

With mobility, Macron is struck by the acceleration of the technology he witnessed during a recent trip to CES. He realized, he said, that autonomous driving is something that is here now, rather than something that will be happening ten years from now.

He also characterized his government’s involvement as a shaping of ethical and moral standards in the burgeoning discipline. “If you take healthcare: you can totally transform medical care making it much more predictive and personalized if you get access to a lot of data. We will open our data in France…This can be a very profitable business model: this data can be used to better treat people, it can be used to monitor patients, but it can also be sold to an insurer that will have intelligence on you and your medical risks, and could get a lot of money out of this information.”

“The day we start to make such business out of this data is when a huge opportunity becomes a huge risk. It could totally dismantle our national cohesion and the way we live together. This leads me to the conclusion that this huge technological revolution is in fact a political revolution.”

“If we want to defend our way to deal with privacy, our collective preference for individual freedom versus technological progress, integrity of human beings and human DNA, if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution…That is one of the main reasons why I want to be part of this revolution and even to be one of its leaders. I want to frame the discussion at a global scale,” Macron said.

Artificial intelligence, especially with self-driving cars, has been the subject of controversy recently, as last month a woman in Tempe, Arizona, was killed after being struck by a self-driving Uber car. The vehicle was in autonomous, or self-driving mode, but did have a person behind the wheel when it struck the woman who was crossing the street outside of the crosswalk. Uber announced that it was discontinuing testing and pulling all of its self-driving vehicles off the road in the wake of the accident.

Macron says the success of the initiative he’s building in France will boil down to trust. “I have to build a sort of reciprocal or mutual trust coming from researchers, private players, startups, and my citizens. If the first category of people trust a country as being a relevant ecosystem for them, and at the same time, if I manage to build trust with my citizens for AI, I’m done. If I fail building trust with one of them, that’s a failure,” he said.


Photo by geralt via Pixabay


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