According to a report prepared by U.S. Embassies abroad, France has one of the strongest Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystems in all of Europe along with the United Kingdom and Germany. In fact, AI companies in these countries make up more than half of the European AI company total.
In 2017, the initiative “France is AI” was formed to promote the French AI network with an investment of €25 million in various AI startups across the nation. The existing French AI network shows a range of competencies, and even with its relatively small size, including security, marketing, hardware, big data, audio platforms, healthcare, retail, and robotics.
So far, American digital firms have a head start in the AI sector and have attracted French talents as American firms are able to offer generous compensation packages and recruit the most sought after talent in the region. Facebook for example, created a AI research center in Paris in 2015 and announced January 2018, that Facebook would devote another €10 million to double the size of its French AI team.
In addition, Google is expanding their Paris office to create room for a research center dedicated to AI. Plus Microsoft is planning on launching an AI related training course at their French headquarters this year. Microsoft already maintains a program for AI startups at France’s Station F, the largest startup campus in the world.
Outside of direct investment in AI research, there are also U.S companies that are partnering with or acquiring niche French AI firms. For example, in 2017, Apple bought the French AI startup. Regaind, specializing in image analysis and sorting. Many large French multinational corporations such as BNP Paribas and L’Oreal are partnering with or acquiring AI startups.
However, navigating the tensions between data protection and competitiveness of the AI sector in France can be difficult. The European Union considers data protection a fundamental right. This has led to stricter regulation in France concerning AI development.
President Macron is pushing for the European Union to create more consistent regulations on foreign investment in the AI sector indicating the government’s concern in protecting their small but growing companies from multinationals.
An alliance between Chinese and French universities to promote AI research was established January 2018. France also announced a plan during the same month to work with the UK to unite AI research and to boost investment internationally in AI hubs.
U.S firms looking for French partners in AI, should email Commercial Officer Joel.Reynosco@trade.gov. To locate the closest U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S., go to http://export.gov/usoffices.