French senators criticised the government’s stance in the AI Act negotiations, particularly a lack of copyright protection and the influence of a lobbyist with alleged conflicts of interests, former digital state secretary Cédric O.
The EU AI Act is set to become the world’s first regulation of artificial intelligence. Since the emergence of AI models, such as GPT-4, used by the AI system ChatGPT, EU policymakers have been working on regulating these powerful “foundation” models.
“We know that Cédric O and Mistral influenced the French government’s position regarding the AI regulation bill of the European Commission, attempting to weaken it”, said Catherine Morin-Desailly, a centrist senator at the during the government’s question time on Wednesday (20 December).
“The press reported on the spectacular enrichment of the former digital minister, Cédric O. He entered the company Mistral, where the interests of American companies and investment funds are prominently represented. This financial operation is causing shock within the Intergovernmental Committee on AI you have established, Madam Prime Minister,” she continued.
The accusations were vehemently denied by the incumbent Digital Minister Jean-Noël Barrot: “It is the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life that ensures the absence of conflicts of interest among former government members.”
Moreover, Barrot denied the allegations that France has been the spokesperson of private interests, arguing that the government: “listened to all stakeholders as it is customary and relied solely on the general interest as our guiding principle.”
Barrot was criticised in a Senate hearing earlier the same day by Pascal Rogard, director of the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers, who said that “for the first time, France, through the medium of Jean-Noël Barrot […] has neither supported culture, the creation industry, or copyrights.”
Morin-Desailly then said that she questioned the French stance on AI, which, in her view, is aligned with the position of US big tech companies.
Drawing a parallel from the position of big tech on this copyright AI debate and the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Rogard said that since it was enforced he did not “observed any damage to the [big tech]’s business activities.”
“Trouble was stirred by the renowned Cédric O, who sits on the AI Intergovernmental Committee and still wields a lot of influence, notably with the President of the Republic”, stated Morin-Desailly earlier the same day at the Senate hearing with Rogard. Other sitting Senators joined Morin-Desailly in criticising the French position, and O.
Looking at O’s influential position in the government, the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life decided to forbid O for a three-year time-span to lobby the government or own shares within companies of the tech sector.
Yet, according to Capital, O bought shares through his consulting agency in Mistral AI. Capital revealed O invested €176.1, which is now valued at €23 million, thanks to the company’s last investment round in December.
Moreover, since September, O has at the Committee on generative artificial intelligence to advise the government on its position towards AI.
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