France unveiled plans to host its own AI conference in November — fuelling rivalry with neighbouring Britain, which is preparing its own event the same month.
French billionaire and tech investor Xavier Niel announced Tuesday he intends to host an AI conference in Paris on November 17, sponsored by US chipmaking giant NVIDIA. That will come just a fortnight after the British summit on November 1-2. The announcement came alongside a €200m investment pledge for AI.
Both Paris and London want to attract and retain as many AI companies and engineers as possible amid an acceleration in AI innovation and an influx of VC investment.
The French announcement “marks a very important moment for the UK, especially in terms of recognising that there are other players across Europe also hoping to catch up with the US in the AI space,” says Claire Trachet, CEO of business advisory firm Trachet.
Two different niches
The UK government — excluded from EU-US tech standards discussions since Brexit — is also angling at making Britain the epicentre of AI safety, through its own summit. British prime minister Rishi Sunak is pushing for participating government leaders to agree on the establishment of an international oversight body, which he would like to be based in Britain, according to one official.
That would likely involve regular meetings; the French event’s organisers say they want to hold the event annually.
Sophia Gaston, head of foreign policy and UK resilience at the London-based think tank Policy Exchange, said the two conferences will be seeking to carve out different niches.
“The British one will be focused on the international diplomacy and governance of AI, while the French proposal seems more industry and innovation focused,” she said. “The UK, of course, wants to stake a claim in these areas too, but there’s an important conversation to be had between governments responsible for safeguarding against social harms and testing whether it will be possible to establish a global framework around AI development.”
Dom Hallas, executive director of the UK lobby group Startup Coalition, said “AI is the topic everyone wants to talk about at the moment but holding a corporate-sponsored conference isn’t quite the same as a global summit of world leaders.”
“It’s just one of the many ways that we’ve seen our wonderful French colleagues trying to replicate things happening in the UK on tech — but, like on investment numbers, we’re not really sure it’s that much of a competition,” he added.
British AI startups will showcase their work during the first day of the UK summit, with just five or six AI frontier labs expected to be invited for the second day, when leaders will discuss guardrails for the safe use of the technology, according to two people familiar with the plans.
The agenda for the second day is expected to include discussions on topics such as licensing models and industry’s trade-offs for safety; safeguards for specific uses of AI; how to stop bad actors from exploiting AI to create bioweapons and copyright issues arising from the use of AI to produce new content such as songs and books on the back of extracts from protected material.
Trachet says that the UK and France should ditch the competition and seek a three-way partnership with Germany in order to compete with the US in the medium term.
“In my view, if Europe wants to truly make a meaningful impact, it must leverage its collective resources, foster collaboration and invest in nurturing a robust ecosystem,” Trachet added. “This means combining the strengths of the UK, France and Germany, to possibly create a compelling alternative in the next 10-15 years that disrupts the AI landscape.”