Macron demands French AI ‘champions’

President Emmanuel Macron made a pitch on Wednesday for France to become a leader in artificial intelligence (AI) as he spoke at VivaTech in Paris, one of Europe’s biggest technology trade shows.

He announced 500 million euros ($543 million) in new funding to “create champions” in AI and praised projects targeting French speakers, as concern grows about Silicon Valley firms fuelling English-language domination of AI systems.

Twitter and Tesla boss Elon Musk is scheduled to appear at VivaTech on Friday where he is likely to talk about his company Neuralink, which recently won US approval for human testing of technology that uses implants to link brains with computers.

More than 2,000 firms are displaying at VivaTech, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday, with products ranging from augmented-reality ski masks to an AI-animated bot that allows you to “chat” with Dutch master Vincent Van Gogh.

Tens of thousands are expected to visit the event, with Saturday open to the public.

Macron is a regular visitor and this year his intervention promises to ramp up the competition for primacy in AI technology in Europe, with Britain having made a slew of announcements recently.

Macron, who earlier confirmed that he will meet Musk on Friday, talked of boosting the level of training in AI to create several centers of excellence.

He appeared on stage with the founders of several French startups, including Mistral AI, which announced this week it had raised 105 million euros — a record for a French AI firm.

Macron has also encouraged the European Union to pass AI regulations as soon as possible but warned against regulation without investment.

“The worst scenario would be a Europe that invests much less than the Americans and the Chinese but starts by creating regulation,” he said.

“This scenario is possible but it would not be the one I would support.”

The EU’s AI Act has been rumbling through the bloc’s legislative processes since 2021 and is unlikely to be in force for several years.

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