Generative AI: now what will happen?

Written by Gilles Babinet, France’s Digital Champion

As concerns over the loss of sovereignty due to the EU’s technological weakness persist, now is perhaps the appropriate moment to consider how to navigate the age of the artificial intelligence revolution.

In the past, the reflex has too often been to try to reproduce what already existed, such as creating a consumer computer to compete with the American PC (the Thomson TO7) or financing new search engines (Qwant, Quaero ) to compete with Google. With hindsight, the naivety of these approaches appears obvious. Furthermore, technological history demonstrates that it is anything but linear; rather, it is characterised by strong cycle breaks which have allowed the emergence of new giants at each stage: IBM for the cybernetic era, Apple and Microsoft for the microcomputer era, Google and Amazon for the internet 1.0 era, and Facebook for the 2.0 era.

It is difficult to predict who will dominate in this era of AI 3.0, especially since the organisation of the different players is far from being defined. Personal AI, LLM (large language model) systems, specialised players, data centers dedicated to learning and inference… all of this is not stable and will necessarily evolve.

There are, however, some certainties: the financing of this new generation of actors is six times lower in France than in the USA; the links between research and entrepreneurs are incomparably looser here than across the Atlantic; skills are already in tension even though we do not yet have a player of critical size and on top of that. We will not move forward if we do not go beyond the fantasies too often heard and amplified about the so-called future consciousness of AI, their propensity to steal our jobs (economic science and the history of the economy completely disprove this belief) and other fears which paralyse us and make us fear the future as well as deny progress, not to mention the sometimes coercive regulations on innovation.

What is fundamentally important is to multiply the opportunities to bring out new players and thus promote the creation of entirely new ecosystems, rather than simply replicating what is already done elsewhere, often very well.

Of course, as with any new technology with great potential, there will be bumps in the road, and necessarily safeguards to put in place, but there is no reason to think that we will not be able to achieve this. In addition, the social and environmental challenges we face make this technology, which promises significant productivity gains, a valuable ally in facing them.

For the European Union, it is also an opportunity to catch up on its cumulative delay by seizing this break in the cycle and creating a more inclusive and resilient development model.

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