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Breakdown of France’s AI Strategy: Another French Revolution In The Making?

Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron at the event (Image: France 24/YouTube)

France looks determined to become the superpower in technology and especially artificial intelligence. French president Emmanuel Macron announced the French AI strategy which will act as a policy document and guiding framework for all AI activities in the future for France. The policy was formulated by a team led by Cedric Villani , Mathematician and Member of the French Parliament. The policy document titled For A Meaningful Artificial Intelligence – Towards a French and European Strategylays a concrete Artificial Intelligence strategy for France.  

In the new AI strategy, the country is trying to leverage many of its assets to bolster innovation and development. When it comes to AI, France has a well respected and accomplished scientists and academicians who are working in the field for decades. One of the prominent faces of modern deep learning, Yann LeCun is also a French national. Along with brilliant minds, France also boasts of massive troves of state-owned data and connections to great European research institutes. Backing the AI strategy, the leadership of the country has also made an investment of  €1.5 billion euros to bring France at the forefront of the field.


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Breakdown of French AI policy

Building a Data-Focused Economic Policy

The AI strategy document mentions that, data currently benefit just a handful of large operators. Hence the goal of the strategy is to provide a greater data access and circulation to power the balance equation between the public and the corporations. The AI strategy also capitalizes on the high protection standards enshrined in the incoming European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The strategy clearly recommends avoiding spreading AI efforts too thinly, but rather focus on four key sectors: healthcare, environment, transport mobility and defense-security.

The panel of expert thinks, it is vital for the state (government) to be a key driver in these various areas of transformation. It is of the view that, public authorities must ensure that they adopt the necessary material and human resources in the field of AI. This is to be done with the aim of factoring AI into the way governments address public policy, hence pursuing modernization and acting as an example to be followed.

Promoting Agile and Enabling Research

The policy document recognises that the French academic research is at the forefront of worldwide exploration on mathematics and artificial intelligence. But it also acknowledges that the country’s scientific progress does not always translate into concrete industrial and economic applications. Hence this has resulted into brain drain where most of the world leading French scientists are working in American universities and corporations.

The strategy document recommends that French institutes should heavily invest to increase the supply of attractive and diversified AI training programmes. The document also recommends doubling salaries in the early stages of researchers’ careers. This is important because it is important to make France more attractive to foreign talents, with financial incentives for example.

Assessing the Effects of AI on Labour Market, and Experiment Policy Responses

The expert panel thinks it is  increasingly certain that most sectors and companies will be widely reshaped by the force of automation and artificial intelligence. The panel’s report states that we are entering a new era of major technological transition and history shows us that previous periods of transition did not always run smoothly.

The AI strategy also recommends setting up a public lab for labor transformations. Further, they recommend setting up professional training worth 32 billion euros per year, with a vast array of funding channels and a whole range of different stakeholders involved. The strategy document states that it is crucial to create a space where economic predictions and study of advancements in AI can be used to better train and upskill workers.

One of the clear target that the AI strategy wants to set is to triple the number of people trained in artificial intelligence in France in the next three years. This could be done by ensuring that existing training programmes focus more on AI on the one hand, but also by setting up new programmes.

Artificial intelligence Working for a More Ecological Economy

The AI strategy suggests designing natively ecological AI and using it to tackle the impact of human action on the environment. This is seen an urgent matter by the panel, as world data storage requirements, inherently correlated to the development of digital technology and AI, could exceed available worldwide silicon production out to 2040.

The AI strategy states that consumers also must play an important part in making technologies greener. The task force proposes the creation of a platform devoted to assessing the environmental impact of smart digital solutions. This platform would also include a simple calculator to enable all citizens to gain greater awareness of these impacts and compare the environmental footprint of the various products, services, software and hardware.

The strategy paper thinks making the AI value chain greener will clearly require open hardware and open software. This can lead to significant energy savings and provide inspiration for initiatives currently underway in Europe.

Ethical Considerations of AI

The strategy paper recognises AI-led progress across a number of sectors (self-driving cars, image recognition, virtual assistants) and its increasing influence on our lives. This has led to extensive analysis of the ethical challenges raised by the development of artificial intelligence technologies and more broadly speaking by algorithms.

Machine learning transparency has become an urgent issue. There is actually a separate field of research to build transparent and understandable AI models. This issue is one of the topmost priority for the panel. According to the panel, production of more explicable models is very critical. Also the production of more intelligible user interfaces and an understanding of the cognitive mechanisms used to produce a satisfactory explanation is also important.

The strategy paper recommends the creation of a digital technology and AI ethics committee that is open to society. Further, this body would be in charge of leading public discussion in a transparent way, and organized and governed by law. The body would work alongside sector committees and combine short-term considerations, such as economic and industrial impacts, with the ability to take a step back and take the long view.

Inclusive and Diverse AI

The policy document suggests that Artificial intelligence must not become a new way of excluding parts of the population. They see the inclusion of all races and sects of people in artificial intelligence as a democratic requirement. The strategy paper states that AI creates vast opportunities for value creation and the development of our societies and individuals, hence these opportunities must benefit everyone across the board.

The strategy paper states that educational efforts on equality and digital technology are obviously vital. The panel suggests designing incentive policy aimed at achieving 40% of female students in digital subject areas in universities, business schools and their preparatory classes out to 2020.

The policy proposes to build an automated system to help manage administrative formalities, aimed at improving public awareness of administrative regulations of artificial intelligence and how they apply to each individual’s personal situation. This will lead to digital mediation and social innovations of AI and lead to benefits for all.

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Abhijeet Katte
As a thorough data geek, most of Abhijeet's day is spent in building and writing about intelligent systems. He also has deep interests in philosophy, economics and literature.

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