France is pushing to become Europe’s AI hub, eclipsing the US

French President Emmanuel Macron attended the country’s premier tech event, Viva Tech. Macron told CNBC France will invest in AI “like crazy”.

Nathan Laine | Bloomberg | Getty Images

PARIS – France is making a major effort to position itself as Europe’s artificial intelligence hub, and is making every effort to support the fast-growing and much-vaunted technology.

“I think we’re number one [in AI] in continental Europe, and we need to accelerate,” French President Emmanuel Macron told CNBC’s Karen Tso last week.

Countries want to position themselves as AI hubs as the technology is seen as revolutionary and therefore of strategic importance to governments around the world. AI is expected to impact industries from finance to healthcare, but has also found itself caught in the middle of the broader China-US tech battle

The hype around AI was partly fueled by the viral nature of US company OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot.

AI was the term on everyone’s lips at the annual Viva Tech technology conference in France, from start-ups to established tech companies, as well as companies from industries as diverse as cosmetics and banking.

Macron, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Digital Minister Jean-Noël Barrot attended the event, underscoring the government’s support for France’s tech offensive.

“We’re going to invest like crazy in education and research,” Macron told CNBC, adding that France is well positioned in AI due to its access to talent and startups that are forming around the technology.

French President Emmanuel Macron calls for global AI regulation

While the US is in many ways considered a leader in AI, France is hoping to catch up.

“Believe me, it’s clear the US is number one, and for good reason, because it’s a huge domestic market… I want us to clearly close the gap and invest a lot more, develop a lot more, and do a lot more.” accelerate more,” said Macron.

Even within the European Union, the ambitions of Paris face stiff competition.

“France definitely has an opportunity to be a leader in Europe, but it faces stiff competition from Germany and the UK,” Anton Dahbura, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy, told CNBC via email.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week made his proposal to make the UK a global AI hub.

Dahbura said that to be successful, France “needs to use AI to build on the sectors of the economy where it’s already strong,” such as manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

“It’s a crucial time to be strategic, identify specific areas with different competencies, and invest heavily in AI to get a head start,” said Dahbura.

French AI companies in focus

US companies are currently dominating the AI ​​discussion, with names like Microsoft – which has invested in OpenAI – and chipmaker Nvidia sticking in the mind.

France does not have an AI giant like the US, but wants to create two or three “big global players” in the technology, according to Macron.

It relies on rapid growth for its startups. Four-week-old French startup Mistral AI underscores the potential and hype of AI developments, raising 105 million euros to fund the company. A number of other local startups presented their products at Viva Tech.

Global AI regulation in focus

Part of France’s effort to become an AI hub involves regulation of the technology.

The European Parliament has given the green light to the EU AI Law, a far-reaching, unique regulation on artificial intelligence. It is not yet law, but if passed it would bring a risk-based approach to regulation across the EU.

France is traditionally seen as a supporter of strict technology regulation – but it has struggled with parts of the EU AI law related to generative AI, the type of technology underlying OpenAI’s ChatGPT that it believes is too strict.

“I’m concerned that over the last few weeks the EU Parliament has… taken a very strong stance on AI regulation and in some ways is using this AI to solve too many problems at once.” “Barrot, France’s digital minister, said on the regulations surrounding generative AI.

France must work with US on AI regulation, finance minister says

France wants global regulation of AI, which it hopes to achieve through the G7 group, which includes the US and the UK, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“From my point of view … I think we need regulation and all actors, even the US, agree with that. I think we need global regulation,” Macron said.

The US is considered an enemy

France sees the US as both a rival and an ally. French and European companies will try to compete with US giants like Microsoft and Google, but Washington’s approval is required for any kind of global regulation.

“Competition is always a good thing. So we have a very close working relationship with the US, but we also want access to our own AI information and companies. So I think that fair competition between the US and Europe and also a “Collaboration on some key devices is good for the US and good for Europe,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC.

“In the area of ​​regulation, too, I think it is absolutely important to have a detailed discussion with the American authorities on how artificial intelligence can best be regulated.”

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