PARIS — France’s Emmanuel Macron knows his country is not about to develop a local equivalent of Google or Facebook to power the development of artificial intelligence.
But in a national AI strategy to be unveiled this week, the French president will argue that France has other assets to fuel innovation: its foreign brain trust, huge troves of state-owned data and links to European research institutes to share and leverage knowledge, according to French officials.
Macron’s aim is nothing less than to drag his country into the age of AI and erase 30 years of underperformance on innovation.
“We missed all the big technological revolutions of recent years, but France has a card to play in the field of artificial intelligence,” said an aide to the president who asked not to be named. “Either we seize the chance now, or we watch another wave pass us by.”
In a briefing with journalists ahead of the strategy’s unveiling Thursday, two advisers to Macron conceded that France was starting from way behind China and the United States on AI, and their fiscal-deficit-challenged state would not be able to tap billions of euros in taxpayer money. Venture capital remains far more limited in France than in the U.S., and there are no plans to overhaul tax rules to draw in investors.
Another key aspect of Macron’s plan is to lure French AI researchers, many of whom occupy top positions in Silicon Valley, back to France.
Yet aides argued that Paris, which has just brought its budget deficit under a European Union threshold, would still muster a “considerable” financial effort. The total earmarked for AI research in France’s next budget would exceed, for example, the amount that Finland is investing, they said, without specifying a figure. Finland plans to spend about €200 million over the next four years.
Macron’s idea, the aides said, was to leverage the cash to develop sector-specific AI technology in areas where France has an edge thanks to its giant, state-run agencies and vast troves of centrally collected public and private data.