France’s AI hopes collide with French love of regulating tech

This article was published in Politico and co-authored by Océane Herrero and Gian Volpicelli.

French companies keen to be at the forefront of artificial intelligence — and to rein in European Union regulatory ambitions — have a surprising opponent: the European Commission’s self-styled digital enforcer and über-Frenchman Thierry Breton. 

Speaking before an audience of startups and tech investors in Marseille in late November, the EU’s internal market chief called out the French AI hopefuls who are lobbying to erode the EU’s landmark Artificial Intelligence Act

Breton singled out Mistral — a French AI startup backed by prestigious Silicon Valley investors — putting it in the same category as the U.S. Big Tech firms EU officials usually love to lambast.

“Mistral is lobbying —that’s normal,” Breton said at the event, organized by French newspaper La Tribune. “But we are not fooled: it is defending its business, not the general interest.”

Breton qualified his remarks. He said that Kyutai, a newly launched AI laboratory backed by two French tycoons, Xavier Niel and Rodolphe Saadé, and former Google executive Eric Schmidt is “in the general interest and totally open, it is an initiative that interests and pleases me.” 

Breton was stating the obvious, but his words were met with bafflement by France’s AI ecosystem. 

“We kind of had the idea that he was on our side,” says the public affairs manager of a French tech company attending the event in Marseille, granted anonymity to discuss the issue candidly. “Obviously, Mistral AI represents private interests — but its work is just as open source as Kyutai’s.” 

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Image credit: Image by Freepik

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