Paris, the site of an AI Renaissance

Laura Calmore
May 2, 2018 · 8 min read

“ We would like France to be one of the leaders of AI but we want Europe to be the champion as well, we have the means and now we have to create the conditions that will enable us to get there ”

Emmanuel Macron

As the world has entered into a new era of technological transition, Paris is leading the way for France, and on the race to gain back the delay and learn from its mistakes, erasing 30 years of underperformance in innovation.It’s time to be facing the issues we’re addressing today (labor market, industry shifts, brain drain, policy, ethics, democratisation..) and shape the future as we know it, and one that we all want to live in.

Paris has been one of the ten most visited cities in the world last year, but besides being a cultural hub, the city of love is going through an unprecedented technological transformation accompanied by a real acceleration of the local AI ecosystem. This transformation has even been acknowledged by the likes of Facebook and Google, who have come to Paris to open research centers devoted especially to artificial intelligence. On the topic of reasons for this technological transformation, Yann LeCun, director of F.A.I.R (Facebook AI research), had this to say:

“ We [Facebook] chose Paris because the opportunities were bigger there as there were only a few advanced AI research labs in France when we decided to make the move. The second reason is the CIFRE PhD structure — which allows us to involve PhD students that are also part of the industry. The last reason is the rise of the local ecosystem — with startups, universities and research structures entering in the city more and more”

Yann LeCun

As stated by the French president and with the involvement of member of parliament, and Fields medal winner, Cédric Villani, the government plays an important role supporting and promoting entrepreneurial and strategic initiatives in AI, especially in attracting tech-talent from around the world.

France and Europe will not compete with AI “giants” by creating their own European Facebook or Google, but they have started tailoring their own model, by leveraging European data to open an avenue for new models and applications, raising visibility of local ecosystems for better collaboration, more global opportunities and a clear path to safeguarding souverganity over data.

A great example of the government support AI and the tech community is La French Tech, a global organisation which celebrates cheese, wine, entrepreneurship and innovation not necessarily in that order — using three main initiatives :

  • The French Tech Visa: a simplified fast track for foreigners to get their residence permit.
  • The French Tech Ticket: an incubation program designed for entrepreneurs who want to scale/create their startups in France.
  • The Hub French Tech: a worldwide network of tech entrepreneurs, investors and executives, designed to build bridges between major innovation hubs and facilitate the international growth of French startups.

AI for Humanity is coming to Paris

The recent announcement by the French president Emmanuel Macron was the starting point for France’s AI strategy : AI for Humanity, which lays out how France will become the HQ of a responsible european AI ecosystem.

The pillars of his proposal are:

  • The maturation of the french AI ecosystem: boosting educational programs lead by the French Institute for Research in Computer Science (Inria). This would increase the number of students, and talent in the field — in response to the severe brain drain.
  • The establishment of an open data culture in several fields: providing quality data sets to be used as input for research and development. These include websites such as, OpenDataFrance and OpenDataParis, DataCity.
  • Economic support: spending up to 1.5B € for AI & research over the next four years. Details have not be released, but €700M for research, €100M for AI startups, €70M annually through France’s Public Investment Bank, and $400M to industrial projects in AI.
  • Despite countries such as the US and China having a longer history in the development of AI, France has a role to establish regulations on the utilisation of AI: determining the standards for other countries, and increasing trust in new emerging technologies
  • Focus on four areas impacted by AI: health, transportation, environment, and security. The government is also advised to establish its own AI ethics committee to study the impact of the technology and advise politicians.

A global race, with Paris as HQ

It’s really exciting to see how more of the global race in AI is taking place from Paris with large international actors like Google, Facebook expanding their AI projects in Paris, or IBM investing heavily in 1,8k jobs mostly in AI, blockchain and other cloud computing skills.

Facebook will invest over €10m in its French AI centre; the decision is a sign of optimism in the French and European technology sector, following Emmanuel Macron’s election as president last year. Techgiant Google, will reinforce its current teams in Paris, adding 6,000 square meters of office space (64,500 square feet) to it’s Paris hub, and the company is going to create a new research center dedicated to artificial intelligence. Samsung stated intent to open a Paris AI center as part of its global push to gain a position in the AI market — starting with a core team of 20, Samsung expects to eventually reach a staff of up to 100 employees. Fujitsu also confirmed it would expand its investment plan to $61 million in a Paris AI center over the course of five years.

But in addition to all the giant initiatives, the current layout of the ecosystem is bringing startups and founders from all around the world to Paris and France.

Additionally, French automotive company Valeo will open a research center for artificial intelligence and ‘deep learning’ with the aim of developing technologies that can be applied to autonomous vehicles. The center, coined, will house 100 researchers by the end of 2018, and will draw from connections to academia, the startup community, and the company’s own research and development centers.

Parisian nights are hosts to a plethora of AI meetups such as Deep Learning Paris: promoted by the Heuritech company, where cutting edge technology for image classification is the main focus; and Kaggle Paris Meetup: where a community has formed around machine learning competitions using the Kaggle platform. Typical presentations involve feedback from competitions, tips for newcomers, and networking with important companies applying data science.

Paris, a startup hub

All this government support surmounts to a total investment of about 1.8B Euros, so if you’re still not convinced that Paris is the place to be then, there’s more to come!

The French government support doesn’t stop here! Entities like Bpifrance offer additional programs to boost the development of startups, offering financial support and a access to a community of entrepreneurs. Alongside parties such as Bpifrance, local entreprises can participate in local development clusters, each of these clusters is intended to increase the attractiveness of the region, find some examples of Parisian clusters here:

Yet the awesomeness of Paris goes further! The city is also home to incredible business facilities such as Station F, a 34,000m2 startup campus, the World’s biggest! This place is more than an incubator, it’s the cornerstone of an active ecosystem with innovative initiatives like the First Startup Garage from Facebook or the Google coaching pop-up space. Moreover, the City of Lights has a great ecosystem with more than 20 accelerators and incubators who gives startups all they need to scale up.

About the PARIS.AI Avengers

Laura Calmore joined CITY.AI as the first ambassador for the city of AI renaissance in early 2017. Our very own wonder woman leads strategic initiatives at ni2o, an incredible project in the field of neuroscience and AI. In addition, she leads the Global Startup Weekend on Artificial Intelligence.

Lucia Cardenas joined Laura in piloting the #GSWAI in june 2017, she assists local organizers around the world with their Startup Weekend AI events. Joining CITY.AI in late 2017, she is our event organization superhero! If you want to collaborate with us and make more magic happen, don’t hesitate to reach out to her.

Javier Gonzalez CEO and co-founder of Botfuel, a startup which helps leading companies create smart chatbots through its AI driven platform. Writer, speaker and CITY.AI Paris superman, Javier shares his knowledge in the area of chatbots and AI with our community.

Cristian Perez holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry, during those years of research he created a mathematical model to predict corrosion, he may as well be Mr. Fantastic. During this process he discovered his passion for Machine Learning and AI, he currently works as a Data Scientist for Kernix and he is our content lead.

The Spearheads of the French AI Revolution

The Front Runners :

Dataiku: They developed Data Science Studio, a tool that lets data scientists and analysts perform machine learning on any (dirty) data.

Snips: Is an AI-powered voice assistant you can add to your products. It runs on-device and is Private by Design.

Shift Technology: Shift Technology leverages the best of data science to automatically detect networks of fraudsters in insurance and e-commerce. The solution is integrated with a cutting edge Big Data platform, and is provided in a SaaS model.

Tinyclues: Tinyclues enables marketers to generate more revenue from their customer database and CRM by reaching the right audience on any campaign, based on its unique AI-powered targeting solution.

Prophesee: (previously Chronocam) develops innovative computer vision sensors and systems for applications in all fields of artificial vision. The sensor technology is inspired by biological eyes, acquiring and processing the visual information in an extremely performing yet highly efficient way.

Also find the French AI Mapping of Bpifrance and more:

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Some Dark Horses :

Doctrine: focuses on legal research, offering a fast, efficient and user-centered search engine on the French and European case law.

Botfuel: Botfuel is a chatbot platform that connects companies data to almost any messaging app, with a devkit enabling developers and companies to build enterprise-ready bots.

The Places You Want to Be :

AIParis: French event for artificial intelligence applications.

Hello Tomorrow: a Deep Tech global organisation gathering a community of the world’s brightest talents together to propel collaborations and bring breakthrough technology to market.

VivaTechnology: The world’s rendez-vous for startups, corporates and technology leaders.

Big Data Paris: The hallmark event for big data and data science applications in France.

FranceisAI : an AI NGO who promotes and supports the French Artificial Intelligence. It brings together different players

The must meetups: Chatbots Paris, Paris Machine Learning Applications Group , Paris NLP, Deep Learning Paris, Paris Datageeks, Kaggle Paris.

TOP 5 of influenceurs you want to follow

  1. Cédric Villani : @VillaniCedric
  2. Yann Lecun : Yann LeCun
  3. Rand Hindi : Rand Hindi
  4. Laurent Alexandre : Laurent Alexandre
  5. Olivier Ezratty : @olivez

This overview was written by Paris.AI ambassadors & contributors Lucia Cardenas, Cristian Perez & Laura Calmore, with contributions from local actors. Special thanks to the support of Sebastian van Eerten (City.AI).

Applied Artificial Intelligence

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