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Winning the Artificial Intelligence Battle

Discover Philippe Lerique's article in Les Echos!


Philippe Lerique, AI Associate at Talan

Article published in Les Echos, click here to read it (in French)

THE CIRCLE/OPINION – Artificial Intelligence is going to create new functions and services. It's imperative that France seizes this opportunity, as the country already has the groundwork ripe for development.

For some months, Artificial Intelligence has been making the headlines, and not necessarily for the right reasons. The development of AI will destroy a huge number of jobs, man will be enslaved by a machine which is more efficient than he is.

These worries are legitimate, and the industry is responding to them. A little over a year ago, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Apple created a joint organisation, Partnership on AI, in order to define, in particular, a framework of good practice in ethical matters. Another organisation, OpenAI, led by Elon Musk (tesla, SpaceX), among others, makes sure that progress in AI is positive for society.

Technological Revolution

In the international battle which is beginning, France cannot risk missing out on this new technological revolution by reacting with precaution, as we too often have before. Our country missed the battle of Industrialisation, it cannot lose the battle of AI.

The parallels with industrialisation are, in fact, enlightening, if we take the German model as an example. They excel in the art of consensus with social partners; businesses on the other side of the Rhine have modernised their work tools. According to the last annual study by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Germany has almost double the number of industrial robots than France in relation to number of inhabitants. This has allowed the country to increase its productivity.

Far from destroying jobs, our neighbour has managed to create new services, to accept orders that it previously couldn't fulfil and repatriate activities that had been offshored. As for the workers and supervisors who were working on the production line, they have been given new positions with greater added value, or new activities enabled by the (re) found availability.

Robot Teachers

Like automation, the introduction of Artificial Intelligence will change our organisations for the better. Virtual agents, like “chatboxes”, will respond to questions and accompany users in most everyday activities, leaving human operators to deal with only the most complex cases. Customer relations will increase in quality.

Artificial Intelligence is not limited to the automation of tasks. It allows the creation of truly disruptive new services. Relieved of their operational activities, companies will be able to dedicate more and more time to their policy of innovation.

AI will also create new jobs, like those of robot coach or teacher.  The term “machine learning” (automatic learning) is misleading. A machine can not learn by itself. It needs to be taught the subtleties of a job, to establish the “process” of an activity.

From a set of data of sufficient volume, the coach will train the machine. However, before this stage, the robot teacher will put in place and then develop a learning process, which for many is the essence of the company's identity and expertise. Depending on the aim, different bricks of cognitive intelligence will be used, like the recognition of shapes, the processing of images, the analysis of semantics, vocal recognition or automatic translation. Each of these robots must first be shaped and adapted like we're training a new colleague.

Expected Recommendations

If initially these functions are externalised, they will quickly become part of company's flow charts as they take on a strategic importance, in all sectors of activity. An insurer will be able to optimise the management of accidents on the basis of photos of the damaged vehicle. An optician will offer personalised glasses frames which correspond perfectly with the morphology of the customer's face. The list of uses is endless.

With our mathematicians and cognitive science researchers, renowned across the world, our country has serious advantages to offer Artificial Intelligence. French people occupy key positions in this area, starting with Yann LeCun, director of Facebook's Artificial Intelligence research laboratory.

Another prestigious mathematician, and La République En Marche (LREM) Member of Parliament, Cédric Villani, was trusted with a assignement of Information about AI at the return of parliamentary session, six months after a first report. The 2010 Laureat Prizewinner of the Field medal will present his recommendations at the end of the year. This is an important step to make France not a follower, but a leader.

Philippe Lerique is an Artificial Intelligence Associate at Talan.