French AI can challenge ‘insane’ dominance of US and China

French President Emmanuel Macron has called for his country’s AI leaders to challenge the “insane” dominance of US and Chinese tech giants.

Macron’s plea comes amid a boom period for French AI. Led by OpenAI rival Mistral, the country has become a European hotbed for artificial intelligence. 

The blend of highly-skilled talent, increased government support, and growing investment streams has created fertile ground for startups.

Mistral, the sector’s darling, is barely a year old and also reportedly seeking a $6 billion valuation. Another candidate for the French tech crown is H (formerly Holistic), which this week announced a whopping $220mn seed round. The raise comes just months after the company’s inception.

Macron cited both these companies as potential tech giants. For now, however, Europe remains a long way behind the US and Chinese leaders. None of the 10 largest tech companies by market cap are based in the continent and few feature in the top 50.

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The French President decried that landscape.

“It’s insane to have a world where the big giants just come from China and US,” he said in a Thursday interview with CNBC.

“We need much more European big players, and I think Mistral AI can be one of them.”

The 46-year-old also highlighted the promise of H, pointing to the startup’s impressive fund-raising and decision to launch in Paris. Yet he acknowledged that France still lags behind the US for innovation and entrepreneurship.

To address this, Macron has cut red tape, loosened labour protections, and reduced taxes on the wealthy. He’s also attracted foreign investment, including a €15bn funding package from the likes of Microsoft and Amazon announced earlier this month.

Macron has also committed to a pan-European AI strategy. At a meeting in the  Elysée Palace this week, he hinted at the first step of a new plan:

“Our aim is to Europeanise [AI], and we’re going to start with a Franco-German initiative.”

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