Author(s): Raghu Gopal
Artificial intelligence has moved its way up the food chain, becoming a fundamental ingredient for a nation's economy and security.
A few weeks back, French president, Emmanuel Macron, laid out a bold national strategy in the field of artificial intelligence. The initiative will get €1.5 billion (about $1.9 billion) in government funding over the next five years.
The project will focus on four key sectors: healthcare, mobility, the environment and defence and security. Many private companies have opened or plan to set up artificial intelligence research centres in France, including DeepMind, Fujitsu, IBM, Microsoft and Samsung. Facebook and Google already work with hundreds of researchers in Paris, and France has a useful crop of start-ups in the area.
President Macron talked about artificial intelligence being employed to advance the nation's healthcare system, enabling new efficiencies and discoveries. The vision is that the technology could be used along the entire healthcare chain, to treat people and to proactively prevent and predict diseases and illnesses. We agree that artificial intelligence has the potential to be a facilitator in this sector, but given that data is the fuel for the artificial intelligence machine, the government will have to take care how it's implemented. Other countries such as the UK have become unstuck when starting to adopt the technology with sensitive data like patient records.
France's goal of improving its artificial intelligence skills is commendable, particularly in the face of competition from giant rivals such as the US and China, where major companies have given these markets a significant digital head start. Unquestionably, the secret sauce for artificial intelligence is the data harvested from users during consumer-oriented commercial efforts. Once collected, this ingredient can be rented out to boost profits, subject, of course, to suitable privacy treatment. The privacy options are changing, especially as Europe introduces its new privacy regime, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, in May 2018. To truly catch up with the US and China, France will need to find ways to pull in data from many information points. This includes partnering with private companies that are already adept at doing so.
The French government is thinking along the right lines: artificial intelligence is becoming a fundamental part of a modern economy. Fortunately for all countries and companies that recognise this, we're still very close to the beginning of this mega trend. For France's initiative to succeed, the government will need to have an approach for the long run, and ensure that artificial intelligence isn't merely the political flavour of the month. Without long-term commitment, success will be elusive.
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