France is afraid… The famous sentence uttered in 1976 at the beginning of the televised high mass of 20 hours by Roger Gicquel could still apply today. That’s when we talked about uncertainty. Today we are talking about generative artificial intelligence. And the least we can say is that the French do not feel reassured at all.
Studies follow each other and the same conclusions demonstrate their great distrust of this ongoing revolution, it seems, even greater than that brought about by electricity, steam or the Internet. In a recent survey by cyber security company NordVPN, only one in four French people said they had a positive view of artificial intelligence. And only 3% perceive it very positively.
The French and their eternal contradictions… Because this great reserve, even this fear, is completely out of touch with reality. It would be understandable if, as in Italy for example, the political forces and especially the government themselves showed reluctance by imposing an embargo on research in this area.
Or if the scientific community warned of impending Armageddon. But it’s quite the opposite. From the deputy minister in charge of digitization, Jean-Noël Barrot, to the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the executive is showing its enthusiasm and pledging billions to support the sector. And in the opposition, opinions on this topic are at worst neutral.
France might even be optimistic and proud to be interested in the business side of the matter. A bit like in the world of quantum, several gems in this sector have recently been founded by French engineers, polytechnics or high school students who managed to get hundreds of millions of euros to develop their project.
France is thus reaping the rewards of its investment in the education of internationally recognized mathematicians. And it is on the academic side that the movement in favor of generative artificial intelligence is even more evident. Luc Julia, current Renault Group Scientific Director and specialist in large language models (LLM) continues to downplay the drama, repeating to anyone who will listen that these generative AIs aren’t all that intelligent after all, and that they will primarily serve humans.
Yann Le Cun, Meta’s Mr. AI, spends a lot of energy publicly explaining the technology’s positive applications for humans. At the same time, it warns against its possible misuse and suggests preventive measures.
Of course, in recent months TVs have quickly filled with pseudo-experts on artificial intelligence, following the good old rule: those who know the least often talk about it the most. We take positions that are more alarming than the previous ones, according to another good old rule: the more it scares, the more it sells. Here, perhaps, we must look for the reason for the techno-pessimism of the French.