With new plan, Macron wants France to win AI 'arms race'

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron has set his sights on artificial intelligence as the next technological frontier France cannot afford to miss, and will launch a major “offensive” this week, officials said on Monday.

France's President Emmanuel Macron attends a news conference at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Macron, the 40-year-old who swept to power last May promising to transform France into a “start-up nation”, wants to avoid seeing France and Europe fall behind Chinese and U.S. giants such as Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft and Alibaba in this area.

“France missed the boat of all the latest technological revolutions: robotics, the internet. We have no giants in these fields,” a presidential adviser said.

“We will do what it takes to move to pole position.”

The officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to give more details on the announcements expected on Thursday, when Macron will speak at the elite College de France research center.

They said France would invest funds “commensurate with what is at stake”: “This is a technology whose control will give a clear economic advantage to the top ones,” the adviser said, describing the global context as an accelerating “arms race”.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the field of computer science that focuses on the creation of machines able to perceive their environment and make logical decisions.


France will seek to leverage its traditional strength in mathematics. It is the world’s second recipient of Fields Medals, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics, but has seen many of its top mathematicians recruited by American-based digital giants, sometimes known in France by the acronym GAFA.

“The French have a card to play because if you look at the heads of AI in the GAFAs, they’re often French,” the advisor said.

Yann Lecun, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, is often cited as an example.

So is Luc Julia, vice president for innovation at Samsung Electronics and co-author of Apple’s personal assistant, Siri.

Macron’s plan will follow most of the recommendations of a report led by Cedric Villani, 44, who won the Fields Medal in 2010 and is a member of the president’s majority party in the National Assembly, advisers said.

China has already pledged to become the world leader in AI by 2025.

Venture investors poured more than $10.8 billion into AI and machine learning companies globally in 2017, according to the Pitchbook database.

The research company IDC predicted this month that spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $19.1 billion in 2018, up 54 percent from last year.

Additional reporting by Marine Pennetier