AI(Artificial Intelligence) is one of the biggest challenges for France in the 21st century and the French president, Emmanuel Macron fully understands it. This explains why on March 29, 2018 he presented at the Collège de France his vision and strategy of how to make France a leader in AI based on three pillars: First, AI should be established an ethical framework. Second, France has already a lot of talent. High quality engineers, who can develop different kind of projects. Third, France has massive centralized database… It’s obvious that, when the chief of state talks about that, he sends a clear message both to public administration and private sector in favour of the AI.

Just before being involved in politics, Emmanuel Macron himself wanted to set-up a hi-tech company! This reveals how open he is to any kind of innovation. He even expressed his wish to transform France into a “start-up nation” within 2022.

There is no doubt that Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power in Politics, fits perfectly to AI.

 AI France

On January 22, 2018, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook no 2 visited Emmanuel Macron and announced a 10.000.000€ investment in FAIR (Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research) laboratory in Paris, until 2022. On March 28, 2018, Samsung decided to set up its third biggest research centre for AI in France. And Japanese group Fujitsu announced that it would also do the same thing.  In the meanwhile, the 2010 very prestigious Fields price winner mathematician and MP, Cedric Villani, was asked by the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe to prepare a report about AI. In his 240-page report entitled, For a meaningful Artificial Intelligence. Towards a French and European Strategy Villani, as well as a task force of French experts explained the outline of the strategy France should follow in the years to come, for developing AI: “Reinforcing the European Data ecosystem; consolidating and raising the profile of the French AI ecosystem; focusing on four strategic sectors (health, defence, transport and the environment); building a network of interdisciplinary institutions for AI; stepping up interaction between academia and industry; anticipating the impacts on employment and testing out; training AI talent at all levels; releasing ecological data; developing digital meditation and social innovation so that AI benefits everyone…”.

All this shows that AI is one of French authorities’ top priorities. On February 19, 2019 the AI France Summit took place at Bercy in Paris and another report was published, focusing on the development of AI for autonomous cars, on industry and public services. In a few days, on March 11 & 12, 2019 the 10th Big Data Corp will take place in Paris (Palais des Congrès). Organizers expect 17.000 visitors, 100 experts and 250 exposers. There will be more than 150 workshops about the efficiency of AI. Then, on June 11 & 12, 2019 an AI exposition will take place in Paris. The goal is to create an ecosystem for the development of different applications of the AI. So, things go very fast in Paris and all these meetings could help a lot about that.

After all, in a heavily centralized country like France, in which public authorities are involved, one way or another, in almost all economic sectors, all this means that AI could be transformed into an economic sector with a very strong potential within the years to come. Macron announced an investment of 1,500,000,000€ over four years in order France to become one the AI leaders. And, in 2017, $141,000,000 were invested in the AI companies in France. In the same time, French companies seem to appreciate a lot AI. In health sector 88% of the companies have an AI project. They also consider that AI will help them to better use their data and becoming more efficient and to improve customer relations.

French government’s goal is at least 40% of AI researchers to be female!

Young French can study AI in France after a Bachelor’s Degree in mathematics, or IT. Then follow a specialized Master in AI in some very good universities like Paris-Descartes, Lyon University, or the University of Artois, the Polytechnic School of Paris, or an engineering school like ENSTA Bretagne, Grenoble INP Ensimag, ESILV, or the AI Microsoft School in Issy les Moulineaux.

Development of the AI business is accompanied by a strong commitment to ethics, to the protection. Hot topics that become more and more important in today’s world.

Bibliothèque nationale de France(BnF, François-Mitterrand). BnF contained roughly 14 million books at its four Parisian sites (Tolbiac, Richelieu, Arsenal, Opéra).

However, things are not so simple.

First, USA invest 20 times more and China 25 times more money on AI than France. This raises the following question of how can France be a leader on AI, after all? So, both private and public budgets for AI should be dramatically increased within the years to come.

Second, for the time being, according some estimations, there are no more than 271 French start-up companies specialized in AI, such as Angolia, Sophia Genetics, Shift Technology, Navya, or Phrophesee AI Health services (Therapixel), and insurance (CBien, Shift Technology), finance (Previsio.io). And according to the Observatory of AI in France, which is a public institution, belonging to the French Ministry of Higher Education & Research, there are 542 French structures implicated in AI including 286 companies and different research groups. But it’s much less, not only than in the USA and China, but also than in the UK and Germany. So, new French AI start-ups should be set-up within the years to come.

Third, AI is not always welcome in France. According to the former budget minister Jean François Copé the AI “the Yellow Vests are the first victims of the AI”. In his book (written with Laurent Alexandre) just published, he considers that French authorities have underestimated the impact of AI on employment. And he also raises the question of whether AI could kill democracy. For him, AI is a factor of stress for Yellow Vests protesters, who are afraid of the impact of AI on their jobs within the years to come. Taking into consideration the violent strikes which take place every Saturday during the last four months in France, this kind of scepticism cannot be ignored.

Fourth, in France, there are some objections about AI, especially among philosophers or sociologists for the respect of human life, and peoples’ privacy. This attitude also reflects a real gap in the French society well known as the digital divide (fracture numerique in French). Between those who are familiar with IT and hi-tech, and those who are not. In a country with such an egalitarian tradition like France, this could be an obstacle for the development of AI. Just like any kind of technological innovation, AI should not only be good and efficient, but it should be accepted by its users. The best example of this, are the mobile phones. Today the 66 million French people use 77.2 million mobile devices and everybody seems convinced of their utility. So, the same thing should be done for the AI.

Fifth, the use of Big Data could be quite complicated. France applies very strict rules about the protection of private life. This raises the question whether AI could use all the necessary information. The National Commission for Informatics and Liberty (CNIL) which is the French independent authority ensuring data privacy, already receives thousands of claims every year, and seems to take AI very seriously. This is the reason why on December 15, 2017, CNIL’s president Mrs Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin, presented a report about the AI, to the Secretary of State for Digital Affairs Mr. Mounir Mahjoubi and Cedric Villani, MP in charge of a government mission about AI. CNIL had organized an open debate between January and October 2017 in which participated 3000 people and had 60 partners all over France: Universities, Research institutes, ministries and public institutions, lawyers bar associations and ordinary citizens. This shows that CNIL is trying to better understand the impact of the AI in everyday life. This is of vital importance for the evolution of the French legal framework allowing the development of the AI, by respecting the protection of private data.

In conclusion, the strong governmental commitment and the private sector’s strong interest about AI, combined with highly qualified young engineers, could allow France to play a key role in the years to come. Without underestimating the fact that, as we already saw, French have the tendency to convert almost everything (from kings’ palaces, to movie festivals and museums) into soft power, very efficiently, in the past!

French soft power: From Trump’s penthouse to Cannes

With a territory approximately as big as Texas, France is not as big as Russia, Canada. And with just 66 million population, France is not as populated as China (1.415 billion), or India (1.354 billion). Despite all that, France applies soft power principles since a long time ago, in a very efficient way. Up to a point that France has been ranked recently as the new world leader in soft power! French do better than the US, the UK, Russia or China, according to many experts.

(left)Palace of Versailles, president Trump’s New York City penthouse.

Just watch a picture of American president’s Donald Trump New York City penthouse interior. You have the impression that you are at the French palace of Versailles! Everything looks too French, from top to toe! Interior design is based on Rococo style decoration. There is a Louis XV mantel, 17TH century tempered glass tables, chandeliers etc. etc. Which means that even Trump himself is seduced by the French soft power! (It seems that he was probably inspired by the famous French king Louis XIV (1638-1715) who built the Versailles palace, ignoring that he turned out to be one of Joseph Nye’s soft power concept biggest fun!)

After all, in terms of soft power Versailles played a key role both in internal French politics, as well as the French foreign policy. Attracting all French aristocracy in this place allowed the French king managed to impose himself as the only true leader of his country, a few centuries ago. Then, it was at Versailles where the French Revolution of 1789 practically started. And even nowadays, the vote for every amendment of the French constitution takes place at Versailles! This is the place where both French MP and Senators participate in the debate and make their choice. So, Versailles’ soft power remains very strong in contemporary French politics.

At the same time, in terms of foreign policy, Versailles became the place to be for foreign kings, emperors and chiefs of state for centuries. Russian tsars, American presidents and British kings and queens were invited there in the past. On January 22, 2018 the French president Emmanuel Macron invited 140 CEOs of big companies such as Google, Facebook or Alibaba at Versailles! This reveals the efficiency of Louis XIV’s idea, not only to build this beautiful palace, but above all, to turn it into in such a prestigious place, reflecting French civilization’s soft power all over the world.

Just look to the formal dinner which took place on April 23, 2018 in the State Dining room of the White House between Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump. French influence was everywhere, in the meal, the wine or decoration, especially thanks to First lady’s involvement. Can you find a better demonstration of the French soft power?

Of course, Versailles soft power aura does not concern only French politicians or world leaders. Millions of tourists from all over the world visit the palace every year. Personally speaking, I really like picnics in Versailles gardens in the summer. And I strongly believe that Louis XIV should be very proud of his palace.

Another big fun of the soft power concept was the father of the modern French Republic (since 1958) General De Gaulle (who was president of France between 1959 and 1969). He was very attached to the concept of the international influence of France and to the importance of the French language and culture. To what is commonly known as the French cultural exception. His attitude was quite original for someone like him with a strong military background.  But he fully understood of the importance of soft power and tried to turn it as efficient as possible in order to restore France’s prestige after WWII, and to transform it into a key player in the European affairs.

Culture is indeed a keystone of the French soft power. A very characteristic example is Cannes film festival, which takes place since 1946. For the 2018 version the president of the jury was the Australian actress Kate Blanchett. Before her the Spanish Pedro Almodóvar (2017), Steven Spielberg (2013), Robert de Niro (2011), Quentin Tarantino (2004), Francis Ford Coppola (1996), Sophia Loren (1966), and Jean Cocteau (1954). Every year, for ten days, it is the place to be for the world’s film industry. Movie stars, film producers, top models, and singers participate in the festival, as well as more than 4000 journalists and more than 2000 media participate in the festival, bringing not only more than 200.000.000€ of economic benefits, but a golden opportunity for a demonstration of the French soft power all over the world.

Just like Le Tour de France. A men’s bicycle race broadcast in 190 countries all over the world! Or Paris Fashion week. Or the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, are some more examples of how efficiently France handles soft power.

Georges TASSIOPOULOS 

PhD, Political Science

MASTER1, National & European Policies of the EU country members (Sorbonne) /MASTER2, International Trade & Affairs (University of North Paris)

Presented nine papers about French politics in UK congresses and LSE workshops. Presented papers in the French parliament, the House of Europe in Paris and a University workshop in Paris. Consulting Global start-ups, teaching 

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