As the CEO of a tech company that uses AI, with engineers in France, I’m very pleased that the French President Emmanuel Macron has decided to invest in an artificial intelligence ecosystem.
That ecosystem currently takes in a number of important elements; from its foreign brain trust to massive pools of state-owned data as well as links to European research institutes that enable us to both share and leverage knowledge. Macron is putting his money where his mouth is by committing an investment of almost €1.5 billion Euros through the end of his first term in 2022.
According to Politico, Mr. Macron said, “we have to be in a position to build, in France and in Europe, an artificial intelligence ecosystem.” He added, “We should have a policy of open data [and] have to think on the subject from a political and ethical point of view … to come up with a common understanding and rules.”
But where does that place us in the grander scheme of things? Over in China, we see the government owning all data. In the US, it is owned by private companies who are disrespectful to privacy. We don’t want to be either of those things; a richer, healthier economy would see France specialize in AI that respects people’s privacy both from governments and from corporations.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. At the moment, China and the US dominate the landscape so fully that France and the EU are doing what they can just to stand still. Macron himself is conscious of the fact that France has only really started embracing innovation coming from startups less than 10 years ago, just as much as he knows it’s time to change. He gets that our country is deficit-challenged and he can’t just take anything from the billions of taxpayer Euros.
According to TechCrunch, Macron said, “AI is a technological, economic, social and obviously an 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.” And I couldn’t agree more.
AI is about algorithms, computing power, and data. France already has the talent pool to write the algorithms: the researchers, the mathematicians, the institutions, the software engineers. Computing power is a commodity that everyone has. So it comes down to data. That’s where France has a differentiating card to play: to be a safe haven for using massive amounts of data in a way that’s protective of the rights and expectations of individuals. France has the moral framework to “use AI for good” (instead of just for profit or for population control), and now with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), it has the legal framework to guarantee that.
France already has a robust AI strategy, with many private firms having opened or planning to open research centers in France, including Samsung, Fujitsu, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft. And Macron is of the belief that at the core of AI is research, and that research is being done globally – and that requires cooperation, especially if we wish to be competitive.
Best of all, Mr. Macron seems genuinely interested in retaining the privacy of people’s data, arguing that those concerns should be at the center of any approach to AI. France already outlaws the sort of political advertising that’s at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
That’s why the General Data Protection Regulation is so important – with its bold new privacy rules enforced at the end of May, we now able to use them competitively, not as a set of strangling regulations.
Just as important as helping fund French AI, Macron’s initiative also helps Franco-German projects such as the JEDI Collective (an institute of research that focuses exclusively on technological innovation). “German and French companies need to become leaders in the face of Chinese and American companies,” says German Research Minister Anja Karliczek. But it’s not just Germany that needs to join us; the entire EU needs to come on board if we’re to truly compete with the US and China.
Macron is on AI’s side. He told Wired, “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.”
So where do we stand? With competitive legislation and appropriate funding, it’s on us entrepreneurs to build cool stuff – for the good of the people.
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