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France to invest €1.5 billion in artificial intelligence by 2022

Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP archive | Emmanuel Macron speaks in central London on February 21, 2017.

France will invest €1.5 billion ($1.85 billion) into artificial intelligence (AI) research and development up to 2022, the Élysée Palace presidency announced on Thursday.

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French President Emmanuel Macron will announce his new AI strategy at the Paris-based Collège de France research institute later on Thursday.

Macron has said he does not want France to "miss the AI train" as he introduces measures designed to compete with the United States and China, the current global leaders in AI technology. He has also said he wants to ensure France adopts ethical measures to regulate the industry.

The new proposals are aimed, in part, at luring more top researchers to the country. Tech giants including Samsung, Google and Fujitsu have already announced plans to set up new AI centres in France.

Microsoft, which has pledged to invest $30 million in France, opened France's first AI school in Paris earlier this month to train students for the jobs of the future with a free seven-month course. The school plans to train 400,000 students over the next three years. 

It is hoped that investments in such high-tech training will help offset the expected loss of jobs to artifical intelligence in the coming years. By 2030 it is predicted that most of the world will be employed in new tech industries.

>> Video: France unveils plans to boost artificial intelligence industry

The French government is focusing on a multi-pronged strategy to boost its AI industry focusing on four sectors: defence, health, transport and environment.

The new proposals follow months of interviews with AI experts worldwide by star mathematician Cedric Villani, now a lawmaker in Macron's La République en marche (LREM) party.

Villani's report, presented on Wednesday, calls for doubling the pay for young researchers and engineers and tripling the number of students specialising in artificial intelligence over the next three years.

Macron hosted a dinner Wednesday for about a dozen AI specialists and industry leaders, including Yann LeCun, the New York-based Frenchman who until recently ran the AI research lab at Facebook, and Demis Hassabis of Britain's DeepMind creator of the AlphaGo system that beat a master player at the Chinese game "Go" in 2016 and which will open its first European research centre in France.

"Much of the discussion centred on the best way to accompany the huge changes made possible by artificial intelligence and their ethical implications, and to ensure they are beneficial to humanity," said Marie-Paule Cani, who will hold Google's new AI chair, of the evening's exchanges.

But some say the new measures are unlikely to be enough.

"In terms of artifical intelligence, France has a few strengths but immense weaknesses compared to the US and China," said Laurent Alexandre, an expert in artificial intelligence.

"They are miles ahead of us."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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