What place for Artificial Intelligence in France? On Thursday, at the Collège de France, the President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron presented his strategy to allow the French back into the race for the AI.To close the conference AI for Humanity, the Head of State unveiled four priority projects in the years to come, with a plan of 1.5 billion euros to finance them. Enough to make France one of the leaders in Artificial Intelligence on the world stage? Not so sure...
Artificial Intelligence is on the move! This is a slogan that would be perfect to summarize Emmanuel Macron's speech on AI at the closing of the AI for Humanity conference at the Collège de France on Thursday evening. Expected to present the French strategy in the field after the submission of the report on the AI for which Cédric Villani, the current LREM Deputy, was in charge, the President of the French Republic outlined a plan estimated at 1.5 billion euros. Confessed objective? Replace France at the center of the world scene of Artificial Intelligence. However, this battle plan still seems insufficient to put the AI in France on the run.
An AI plan estimated at €1.5 billion
Before getting to the heart of the matter, study the measures and the 4 priority projects selected by President Macron on the basis of the Villani report, an initial observation is in order on the budget allocated of 1.5 billion euros over four years. This may seem substantial, but in the end it is a reasonable amount, in line with the recommendations already made by the AI France report a year earlier!Especially, it is still far from the investments of private giants like Alibaba (15 billion over three years). Compared to other countries that are already investing massively in AI, France, on the other hand, will be in the nails, slightly behind Germany or ahead of Great Britain and its 75 million euros, for example. But which French company could objectively fight today with the giants of the sector in terms of investments (GAFAM and other BATX)?
.@dr_l_alexandre : la France investit 1,5 milliard d'€ sur 4 ans dans l'#IA. C'est bien mais c'est rien : #Alibaba à lui seul met 15 milliards sur la table. Il faudra une mission Villani 2 pour enfin accélérer. @linfoduvrai #AIforHumanity— François Chevalier (@fra_chevalier) March 29, 2018
Emmanuel Macron had already indicated it previously, there will not be "theof Airbus Artificial Intelligence." So this €1.5 billion for AI will come from existing funds such as the €10 billion innovation fund. Is undressing Peter to dress Paul the best solution? Of this 1.5 billion euros, 400 million will be devoted, in the words of the president, to "the creation of a new European Union".the call for projects"100 million in support of startups in its first year. Here again, the gesture is commendable, but will it be enough for these startups to then impose themselves on a highly competitive sector in which other international companies have already taken several steps ahead? And what about the public sector, where researchers already tend to look elsewhere to practice their profession and benefit from better living conditions?Public finances will appreciate having been spared by the creation of a new fund, for example.Can public research legitimately consider itself the poor relation of this new action plan?.
That being said, Emmanuel Macron presented 4 major projects to enable France to become one of the leaders in Artificial Intelligence :
- Establishment of an Artificial Intelligence ecosystem in France and Europe
In his speech on Thursday evening, Emmanuel Macron made no secret of it: the public/private relationship and porosity between these two worlds will be essential to the development of Artificial Intelligence research in France. That is why the President of the Republic has announced the establishment of "thea national programme for Artificial Intelligence coordinated by INRIA, in conjunction with other partner research organisations and related universities." A network of dedicated institutes, individual chairs and a doubling of training capacity in AI are all ways to attract the most experienced or promising researchers.
- Opening the data
Without data, there is no Artificial Intelligence. "We will progressively proceed to a proactive opening of our data"Emmanuel Macron confirmed during his intervention. The head of state could even have said:"...And all our data!"Public data, publicly funded data such as in transport and health, and even private data. The President of the Republic intends to extend his thinking at European level to open access to private databases and, at national level, create platforms for sharing between public and private.And all this, while respecting the DGPS (the general regulation on data protection) and anonymity in a European context.Security will therefore be essential to allow data to be used in the public interest without manipulation.
- Health and transport in the lead
These are the two sectors Emmanuel Macron favoured during the presentation of its strategy for France based, let us recall, on the Villani report. And for good reason? Health and transport are well endowed sectors in terms of data, whether public or publicly funded. Logically, AI research in these areas will therefore be promoted.In summary, experimentation and autonomous car traffic by 2022 in the transport sector ; creation of a Health Data Hub to invent the medicine of tomorrow and develop predictive medicine.
- Ethical and democratic
The "French" AI will be ethical or will not be. Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of his wish to include as many people as possible in this AI strategy despite a French population that is mostly unfavourable to the pursuit of research in Artificial Intelligence and fearful, to say the least, when it comes to disruption. The Head of State, of course, wanted to reassure us, inviting us to reflect globally on "thele contrôle et la certification" d'algorithmes. The publication of the algorithms used by the State goes in this direction, while the creation of an IPCC to reflect on the impacts of AI in our lives or in our societies could make it possible to anticipate and escape certain biases. The "French AI" will be all the more democratic as the president has finally insisted on the wish for an AI profitable to all and which is not necessarily in the hands of the "white quadra men.
An evolution but no revolution
This action plan, if it has of course the merit to exist, probably does not go far enough to develop research in AI in a spectacular way in France and allow it to catch up with the mastodons like the United States or China. Countries that can count on enormous private funds to impose themselves in the field of Artificial Intelligence.
President Emmanuel Macron did not want to upset public finances and wanted to reassure himself in a context of distrust on the national scene. The openness of the data is undoubtedly a good thing. However, what will be France's room for manoeuvre in a European framework with the application of the GDPR? Do we seriously believe that the creation of a national programme coordinated by INRIA will be enough to bring back exiled talent or attract talent from other countries? Emmanuel Macron may have struggled to attract companies like Deepmind, Google or Samsung to the territory, but it is not certain that he convinced his own researchers to resist outside sirens...
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