Designing a French AI Ecosystem

12th December 2019

France has long been a pioneer in many fields of endeavour, as the next pages of this special French feature will show. There is one sector in particular where the country wants to lead the way: Artificial Intelligence. President Macron wants to turn France into a major player of the AI industry - the French government will spend €1.5 billion to reach this objective in the upcoming years, together with some private investors.

Artificial intelligence often sounds like a promise for the future, but we must not fool ourselves: if you don’t innovate right here, right now you will just be left out, simply following your competitors on the way. It’s all a matter of seizing the right opportunities offered by AI, while designing a framework to regulate it, as France understood it, maybe like no other country.

In a speech on “artificial intelligence at the service of Humans” delivered at the Collège de France early last year, French President Emmanuel Macron presented a strategy designed to turn France into a major player of the artificial intelligence sector, emphasizing that the country has “the assets to succeed in artificial intelligence because [it already has] talents, as well as excellence in training, in computer science and in mathematics”.
French researchers, indeed, have carved out strong international reputations for their contributions to the fields of AI and machine learning. As AI development has recently accelerated, France has proven itself an important source of talent for companies around the world: over the last couple of years, the country has been promoting itself as an AI hub as it seeks to gain greater recognition, nurture its own AI startups, and attract investment from large tech firms.

On the corporate front, there are definitely some good news. Samsung opened a Paris AI centre with 100 researchers, and Fujitsu said it would expand on its previously announced plan to invest $61 million in an AI institute over five years. Meanwhile, London-based DeepMind, a world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact, inaugurated, in September, a Paris lab with 15 researchers, with intentions to expand well beyond that. In fact, Paris is already home to some of the world’s most influential AI research institutions, including public research centres like INRIA, the French institute for digital sciences, as well as CNRS, the Grandes Écoles, and an outstanding network of universities.

In this context, it’s quite understandable France would host some high-profile AI-related conferences. France is AI, a not-for-profit group with the mission to support and promote the AI ecosystem at national and global levels, has been organizing yearly events since its launch in 2016. The second edition of AI Net, which positions itself as a leader event in AI and Machine. Learning applied to the telecom area, also took place in Paris in April. Meanwhile, Transform.AI regularly attracts over 130 senior level executives in the French capital to share insight on how AI is evolving across businesses and enterprises.

Another – among many – examples is the Artificial Intelligence Platform (PFIA), which just gathered researchers, companies and students in Toulouse.

Another – among many – examples is the Artificial Intelligence Platform (PFIA), which just gathered researchers, companies and students in Toulouse.

The city stands proud in one of the pilot regions of the ‘France pour l’Intelligence Artificielle’ initiative aimed at helping to define the major factors in the creation of favorable legislation and regulations in the field. Areas for strategic application in Toulouse include robotics and drones, voice recognition and robots, Big Data and Machine Learning, intelligent and connected cities, intelligent mobility and transport systems and health and personalised medicine. The city now boasts over 150 companies, 7 laboratories, 9 cutting edge technology platforms and more than 1,500 industrial employees all created to support this growing sector.

As President Macron concluded in his speech: “Artificial intelligence is a technological, economic, social and obviously ethical revolution. This revolution won’t happen in 50 or 60 years, it’s happening right now. There are new opportunities and we can choose to follow some innovations or not.”

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