France makes high-profile push to be Europe’s AI hub, issuing challenge to US and China

  • France is making a big push to position itself as a European hub for artificial intelligence, throwing its weight behind the rapidly growing and much-hyped technology.
  • “I think we are number one [in AI] in continental Europe and we have to accelerate,” French President Emmanuel Macron told CNBC’s Karen Tso last week.
  • France will face regional challenges from the UK and Germany, which also have ambitions to become the European hub for AI.

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

Nathan Laine | Bloomberg | Getty Images

PARIS France is making a big push to position itself as a European hub for artificial intelligence, throwing its weight behind the rapidly growing and much-hyped technology.

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

Countries are trying to position themselves as AI hubs, because the technology is seen as revolutionary and therefore of strategic importance to governments around the world. AI is seen as impacting sectors from finance to healthcare, but it has also been caught in the middle of the larger ongoing technology battle between China and the US

The enthusiasm for artificial intelligence has been triggered in part by the viral nature of US company OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot.

AI was the buzzword at France’s annual Viva Tech tech conference, from startups to established tech companies, along with companies from industries as diverse as cosmetics and banking.

Macron, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot attended the event, adding government support to France’s tech push.

“We will invest like crazy in training and research,” Macron told CNBC, adding that France is well positioned in AI thanks to its access to talent and startups that are forming around the technology.

While the US is seen as a leader in AI in many respects, France is hoping to catch up.

“Believe me, it’s clear that the US is number one, 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 accelerate a lot more.” Macron said. .

Paris’ ambitions face stiff competition even within the European Union.

“France definitely has a chance to be the 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 in an email.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week made his proposal for Britain to become a global center for artificial intelligence.

Dahbura said that for France to be successful, it will need to “use artificial intelligence to build on economic areas where it is already strong,” such as manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.

“It’s a key time to be strategic to identify specific areas of distinct expertise and invest heavily in AI to create an edge,” Dahbura said.

US companies currently dominate the AI ​​conversation, with names like Microsoft investing in OpenAI and chipmaker Nvidia remaining in the top spot.

France doesn’t have an AI giant like the United States, but it wants to create two or three “big global players” in the tech, according to Macron.

relies on its startups to grow rapidly. Underscoring the potential and excitement of AI developments, French startup Mistral AI, born four weeks ago, has raised €105 million to fund the company. A number of other local startups were showcasing their wares at Viva Tech.

Part of France’s bid to become an AI hub leads to regulation of the technology.

The European Parliament has given the green light to the EU AI Act, a comprehensive first-of-its-kind regulation on artificial intelligence. It’s not law yet, but if passed, it would bring a risk-based approach to regulation across the EU.

France has generally been seen as supporting strong regulation on the technology, but has challenged parts of the EU AI Act related to generative AI, the type of technology underpinning OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which it considers too stringent.

“My concern is that in recent weeks the European Parliament has taken a very strong position on AI regulation, using, in a sense, this AI act as a way of trying to solve too many problems at once,” Barrot, France’s digital minister, said on provisions relating to generative AI.

France wants global regulation on artificial intelligence, which it hopes to achieve through the G7 group that includes the United States and Great Britain, as well as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“From my point of view, I think we need a regulation and all players, even US players, agree. I think we need a global regulation,” Macron said.

France sees the United States as both rivals and allies. French and European companies will try to compete with US giants like Microsoft and Google, but Washington’s by-in is required for any kind of global regulation.

“Competition is always a good thing. So we have a very close partnership with the US, but we also want to have access to our AI and our companies. So I think having fair competition between the US and Europe and also a Cooperation on some key arrangements is good for the United States and good for Europe,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC.

“On regulation as well, I think it’s absolutely critical that we have a thorough discussion with American authorities about how best to regulate artificial intelligence.”

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