French President Emmanuel Macron Charts Out France’s Approach To Artificial Intelligence

Conversations about artificial intelligence are nothing new, nor are interviews with politicians about national policies. What is relatively new though, is hearing a national leader talk openly about a nation’s relationship with (and policies regarding) artificial intelligence.

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, recently gave an extensive interview to Wired magazine, where he spoke about France’s goals with AI.

Beneficial Transformations

President Macron said that the two applications of AI that made him realize how powerful, useful, and beneficial the technology could be, were applications in the healthcare and autonomous driving sectors. Macron says that he was impressed by new innovations that may allow healthcare to become much more personalized and allow doctors/researchers to better predict, diagnose, and treat illnesses.

For instance, studies done on the effectiveness of AI-based prediction vs human prediction found that, when it came to predicting cardiovascular events, AI systems correctly predicted cardiovascular problems around 7.6% more often than human doctors. They also had slightly smaller false positive rates when compared to predictions made by humans.

Machine learning algorithms combined with big data sets have also been proven adept at diagnosing ailments like cancer and liver disease. Autonomous driving was another area Macron said impressed him. The promises of greater, safer mobility for large populations of people is an obviously appealing idea, and Macron seems greatly excited about the prospect.

AI As A Disruptive Technology

Macron also acknowledged that there would be drawbacks to advances in artificial intelligence. Macron says that AI is on course to disrupt many current business models and potentially put many people out of jobs. Industry analysts seem to agree with him on this point. Given that AI stands to disrupt many industries, Macron says it’s important to have programs in place to train people to do new jobs, to create startups, research solutions, and educate people about the new era they will be living in.

The jobs that AI will be taking over at first are jobs very few people want to do for long periods of time. They largely consist of jobs that are one of the “Three Ds”, jobs that are “Dull, Dirty, or Dangerous”. Though as AI and robotics become more advanced, the range of jobs that will be taken over by machines also increases. Though these jobs may be dangerous and dull, they are nonetheless jobs and people rely on them for their livelihood.

A robot carries out automated tasks in a bakery. Photo: KUKA Roboter GmbH, Bachmann, Public Domain

Macron did not explicitly address the concept of Universal Basic Income, the idea of proving a guaranteed income to people, though the idea has been advanced by many prominent people within the tech industry (such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates) as a potential solution to the disruption and loss of jobs caused by automation. France is currently expected to begin experimenting with basic income in one of its regions.

Creating An AI Policy Based On Shared Values

Beyond the disruptions to economies and industries, there are other ethical and political issues brought about by AI that Macron wants to be proactive in dealing with – issues regarding data privacy and algorithmic transparency. Macron acknowledges that as helpful as giving medical data to researchers could be in advancing the state of medicine, the data could also be misused, say if an insurer used it to sell insurance packages in an exploitative manner.

Macron says that he thinks of the technological revolution as a political revolution as well and that it’s important for the choices that are made regarding AI and data to be made in a way that reflects collective values. Macron says he wants citizens to be active participants in the conversation around how AI is used, rather than the decision being made by a handful of tech companies or by a particular government. Macron says that he wants people to have “ a say in designing and defining the rules of AI.”

Says Macron about involving citizens in the discussion:

…If we want to defend our way to deal with privacy, our collective preference for individual freedom versus technological progress, integrity of human beings and human DNA, if you want to manage your own choice of society, your choice of civilization, you have to be able to be an acting part of this AI revolution.

To achieve this, Macron wants the algorithms in use behind artificial intelligence to be more transparent, more open. This would theoretically assist in attempts to fight data bias/algorithmic bias, where decisions made by an algorithm are biased because the data used an input wasn’t reflective of the population’s diversity. For example, if a college were to use machine learning algorithms and big data to choose which students were accepted, he wants the algorithms used in this decision to be open to the public. Macron says he must be able to guarantee to citizens that there was no bias in the algorithm being used.

Weapons, Safety, And Competition

In terms of other possible threats to the health and safety of society brought about by AI, Macron also gave his opinion on autonomous weapons and competition between nations over AI. Macron says he’s “dead against” the use of lethal AI weapons in warfare. For its part, the United Nations recently discussed banning lethal autonomous weapons.

An added concern is that competition between nations over AI, racing with one another to create advances in the field, will make adequate research into the safety of AI more difficult. Nations and research groups may cut corners with AI safety to try and beat one another to the punch in terms of advances in the technology. People like the philosopher Nick Bostrom and AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky say that cutting corners when it comes to AI safety could be disastrous and that we must make sure AI will remain “friendly” when designing it.

Of these concerns, Macron said that competition between nations over AI superiority is likely going to be “very intense”, but that he hopes cooperation, not competition, will win the day. Macron argued for an open world where research is collaborative, though he also said that he wants Europe to have sovereignty of a sort in the field of AI and expects countries to try to defend their own, various collective AI choices.

Ultimately, Macron seems to be of the opinion that it’s impossible to kill progress when it comes to AI, but that it’s important to embrace and direct this change towards something positive. To do that, Macron argues, he must build an atmosphere of trust in AI and AI researchers within France, earning that trust by being transparent and open to dialogue. Beyond this, the entire world must be willing to become more open and cooperative.

As advances in artificial intelligence continue, government bodies will need to give consideration as to how to deal with the new technology. Back in February, Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader, argued that the United States was falling behind in the field of AI research and asked for a bi-partisan commission to lead a discussion and create policies on the issue. Meanwhile, the Council on Foreign Relations argued against adopting an “America First” attitude towards AI research and urged the federal government to commit to a “more international approach to technology.”