AI & HPC in France


As a French citizen living in London with the dark Brexit cloud looming over us all, I am pleased to see some things moving in the right direction in my beloved home country such as the massive investments the Macron government has made to push for tech innovations throughout the country and the upgrades it so desperately needed.

For years, France has been at the tail end of European artificial intelligence (AI) and high performance computing (HPC) research compared to the United Kingdom and Germany. The French government, headed by Emmanuel Macron, clearly saw the challenge and has decided to invest €1.5 Billion Euros in AI research until 2022.

The French President has gathered a team to head the project “AI for Humanity” whose aim is to put France on the map as an emerging power in AI, and since January 2019, has finally acquired their own national supercomputer dedicated to AI research called “HPC-AI”. At full throttle, this supercomputer will be able to reach over 14 petaflops per seconds or 14 million of billions of operations per second which makes it as powerful as Cray’s Cori which is currently ranked at number 10 on the Top500 Supercomputers in the world. This “little piece of machinery” costs a mere €25 Million Euros and will be based at the "Institut du Développement et des Ressources en Informatique Scientifique" (IDRIS) in Saclay, outside Paris.

France’s “AI for Humanity” project has a unique focus on data, with plans to make private companies publicly release their data for use in AI on a case-by-case basis. On the back of this project, will be created a network of AI institutes, called Interdisciplinary Institute of Artificial Intelligence (3IA) whose goal is to re-group public and private research.

This project has been dubbed “the biggest investment by the French Government”. Funds will also go towards an AI research partnership with Germany; our latest "Deutsch-Französische Freundschaft" effort towards a leadership strategy on a European scale.

More investments in French technology upgrades are coming from big corporations such as Fujitsu who will be investing over €50 Million Euros to support Digital Transformation in France and Facebook who will be investing €10 Million Euros into their AI research base in Paris over the next five years which will aim to see their number of scientists working on AI projects double from 30 to 60 and push AI doctoral scholarships within the country. Also, it is key to point out that the Paris facility is Facebook’s only AI research centre outside of the United States which makes France already a strategic location for the global tech industry.

Last but not least, Google is also injecting money into the French capital by expanding its French office. In addition to growing their French base, the company is also going to create a new research center dedicated to AI.

With the launch of France’s new AI strategy and the effort put in place by the Macron administration, France could, in a few years time, be sat at the leaders table alongside the United States, China, the UK and Germany. With strong alliances already with Germany, its “new comer” status has the means and potential to quickly fade away on the European spectrum.

While on our previous AI & HPC Field Trip to Iceland, I was discussing over dinner what was happening on the French AI scene with one of our guests; Hicham Tahiri from the Parisian chat-bot start-up SmartlyAI. He was telling me all about “Station F” which is a fantastic initiative from the French government. It is the world’s biggest start-up campus (34,000m2), a whole tech ecosystem under one roof which has 31 start-up programs in place. And with over 3,000 desks, it also doubles as a great event space for AI Meetups and other larger tech events. This is a safe space for like-minded entrepreneurs on the AI scene.

But not everything is happening in Paris. While attending an HPC workshop at the Ecole Nationale Supérieur in Lyon last September, I was genuinely surprised to see that it attracted a large number of scientists from Spain, Italy and Portugal. It seemed many of them have been travelling to France several times for those industry events and workshops. There is an ever-growing list of AI events and communities in Lyon, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Nice and Marseille emerging from the tech clusters of France’s largest schools and universities.

Source: France is AI

For over 3 decades, France has been plagued by the “brain drain” or as we say in French, “la fuite des cerveaux” where highly educated people decide to leave the country for better opportunities. Another initiative from the Macron government in order to fight this pandemic was to implement the “French Tech Visa”. This fast-track scheme is open to start-up founders, employees and investors which allows them to live and work in France. Once approved, the permit is valid for four years, on a renewable basis, and allows family members to receive residence permits also authorising them to live and work in France.

As Emmanuel Macron stated on Twitter: “We would like France to be one of the leaders of AI but we want Europe to be the champion as well, we have the means and now we have to create the conditions that will enable us to get there.

This is a very exciting time for France and I was pleased to discuss the subject further with Sam Nikbakhtian during our last AI and HPC Field Trip to Iceland. Sam works for Medopad, the British healthcare company who partnered with Tencent to "bring AI and predictive analytics to the world of medicine". He studied in France and is very well connected to the French tech world and I was delighted to have a French speaker with me during this trip.

As for those who haven’t been able to join us on this occasion, I will see you at the next Field Trip or in Berlin for the second time running at the Rise of AI conference.

Written by Sabrina Chambonnière

See Sabrina Chambonnière's blog

French-born Sabrina is Verne Global's Marketing Manager. She has a keen interest in tech and likes to keep an eye on the latest trends in Europe. When she is not organising an event or talking about music, you will find her at the London office or on social media. Follow her at @SMChambonniere

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