Research: Amazon is the 5 Times of the CNRS!

Laurent Alexandre

The digital stall of Europe owes nothing to chance: we do not invest enough, explains Laurent Alexandre.

We are losing the technological war. Yes, Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) and Chinese BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Xiaomi) are the new masters of the world. Europe has missed the digital revolution. No artificial intelligence (AI) producer, be it Gafam or BATX, comes from our continent.

The digital stall of Europe owes nothing to chance: we invest almost nothing! For example, Amazon’s research budget exceeds 14.2 billion euros a year ($ 16 billion). To which must be added 1.7 billion euros (about 2 billion dollars) that Jeff Bezos (Amazon boss and richest man in the world) invests on his personal fortune every year in space research with its launcher Blue Origin, destined to colonize the cosmos. In comparison, France’s investments in research are derisory.

Europeans prefer to whine

The budget of French public research is 9 billion euros, that is to say significantly below that of Amazon. The hunk is the CNRS, with 3.3 billion, a fifth of the research at Amazon. The National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria), which is the flagship of French research in computer science and artificial intelligence, has a budget that averages around 230 million euros per year. But we must know that only one major developer at Google has received last year a bonus of nearly 90 million euros … not far from half of the budget of Inria.

As a result of their massive investments in technology, the results of the Web and AI giants are impressive. Amazon’s revenue reached $ 233 billion in fiscal 2018 (+ 31% over 2017), ahead of Google ($ 137 billion, + 23%), Microsoft ($ 111 billion, + 15%) and Facebook (56 billion, + 37%). After such a failure, we could hope that Europe gets to work to catch up. In fact, Europeans prefer to whine and accuse the digital giants of all ills. This childish reflex will not get us anywhere. We should try to create digital platforms. This will be very difficult because our regulations are inadequate: we have the Cnil, they have the Gafam. The CNIL is undoubtedly remarkable, but there are 27 equivalent agencies in Europe …

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We confuse millions and billions

On October 15, 2018, Valérie Pécresse, president of the Ile-de-France region, announced that her region would become the world leader in artificial intelligence. With an annual budget of 20 million euros. That’s about a thousandth of Amazon’s only search budget. The digital giants can sleep on their two ears. If France wants to stop shrinking in technology, it would be good if its political leaders stop confusing millions and billions. We are moving towards an oligopoly of a dozen American and Chinese companies controlling AI through the simultaneous control of giant databases and proprietary microprocessors.

The Gafam develop these dedicated microprocessors which they have the monopoly by investing each several billions of dollars each year. Valérie Pécresse will not follow! Jean-Francois Cope is right to be frightened by the fact that there are 105 tiny telecoms operators in Europe against three or four in the United States and China.

Our suicidal impulses are amazing. China’s Kai-Fu Lee, a top AI specialist, said Europe is technologically doomed. If we continue to invest so little in electronic technologies, the future will prove him right. But AI is the main economic and political issue of the 21st century.

Also published on Medium.