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France Pumps €1.5 Billion into AI in Bid to Catch Up

France is pledging €1.5 billion to hasten the development of its fledgling AI ecosystem. French President Emmanuel Macron made the commitment this morning at the Artificial Intelligence Summit held at the College de France Research Center. The event included industry discussions featuring top-notch researchers and high-level ministers such as Secretary of State for Digital Mounir Mahjoubi. France also announced partnerships with DeepMind, Samsung, and Fujitsu as part of a grand strategy to build Paris into a global AI hub.

A Summit highlight was the release of the 152-page report “AI for Humanity,” written by President Macron’s star technology advisor, Fields Medal-winning mathematician Cédric Villani.

Villani accepted government appointment just six months ago, and has quickly pulled together “Mission Villani,” composed of machine learning researchers and members of Europe’s Digital Advisory Council. The team interviewed 350 industry leaders to help form “une stratégie national portée par le plus hautes autorités et la décliner en feuille de route concrète” — “a national strategy carried by the highest authorities and transformed into a concrete roadmap.”

Cédric Villani and Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron at a 2017 Sciences and Avenir Debate.

The strategy promises to comply with European Union’s data privacy policies, namely the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will take effect this May.

Back in 2017, the French government released the 200-page document France Intelligence Artificelle, detailing over 50 policy proposals and placing the number of French AI startups at over 270.

In the global AI competition, France trails neighbours Germany and UK, and all lag far behind leaders USA and China. President Macron incorporated the nation’s innovation challenge his election campaign, calling on France to become a pro-Europe “startup nation.” France has clustered talents from EU’s robotics industries, the Human Brain Project, and FET projects, and accelerated industry development with initiatives like La French Tech.

Google has already helped over 230,000 French students improve their digital skills and is building four “Les Ateliers Numériques” Google Hubs to provide free digital training to the French public. The company is adding 1,000 employees to its sprawling Paris office.

Google’s AI research subsidiary, London-based DeepMind said it will open a Paris lab with 15 researchers led by vernacular AI scientist Remi Munos.

Facebook says it will put €10 million into its French research center over the next five years and double the number of AI research scientists to 100 by 2022. This is Facebook’s biggest investment in France since the Station F Startup Campus in Paris.

Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung will open its third-biggest AI R&D center in Paris. Led by former Apple Siri Chief Luc Julia, the center will house 100 researchers. Corporate President and CSO Young Sohn said today that Samsung sees France’s strong competitive edge in mathematics and physics as a fertile environment for developing AI talents.

Japan’s Fujitsu is intensifying the current expansion of its Paris AI center, pledging US$61 million over the next five years, while Microsoft is spending US$30 million to open an AI school in France.

President Macron sent out 32 tweets from the event under the hashtag #AIforhumanity and #ChooseFrance.

Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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