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UK and France forge stronger research and AI collaboration

Written by Thu 29 Feb 2024

The UK and France have announced significant new measures to deepen their collaborative efforts in research and artificial intelligence (AI), following their association with the Horizon Europe programme.

These measures include substantial new funding and a partnership aimed at promoting global AI safety.

In a landmark meeting in London, Sylvie Retailleau, the French Minister for Higher Education and Research, met with the UK’s Secretary of State Michelle Donelan. This meeting, their first face-to-face interaction since the UK joined Horizon Europe, sets the stage for enhanced cooperation between the two nations, building on a history of joint innovation such as the development of the Concorde and the Channel Tunnel.

Joint Funding and AI Safety Partnership

A key outcome of their discussions is the commitment to £800,000 ($1 million) in new funding designed to foster more joint UK-France research initiatives within the framework of Horizon Europe.

This funding aims to support projects that could have a global impact, continuing the tradition of collaborative research that has previously led to significant advancements, such as the progress towards potential HIV-AIDS vaccines.

Furthermore, the two countries have agreed to establish a new partnership between the UK AI Safety Institute and France’s Inria. This collaboration is dedicated to the safe and responsible development of AI technologies, a timely initiative as France prepares to host the next AI Safety Summit.

This summit will build upon the foundational work of the UK’s inaugural summit, which focused on setting global standards for frontier AI testing.

These initiatives reflect a shared commitment to leveraging scientific research and AI technology for the betterment of society, emphasizing safety, responsibility, and international cooperation.

French-British Joint Committee Meets

The newly established French-British joint committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation convened for its first meeting, marking a significant step towards bolstering collaborative research and development (R&D) between the UK and France.

This committee aims to foster R&D cooperation across various fields, including low-carbon hydrogen, space observation, AI, and research security. It will meet biennially to advance UK-France scientific cooperation in emerging technologies.

Strengthening Scientific Ties and Ambitions

UK Secretary of State Michelle Donelan emphasised the depth and history of collaboration between the two nations: “The links between the UK and France’s brightest minds are deep and longstanding.

“It is only right that we support our innovators, to unleash the power of their ideas to create jobs and grow businesses in concert with our closest neighbour on the continent,” added Donelan.

This partnership, she noted, is pivotal in realising the UK’s aspirations to become a science superpower.

Echoing these sentiments, French Minister of Higher Education and Research Sylvie Retailleau highlighted the joint committee’s role in showcasing the international dimension of research.

“This joint committee is a perfect illustration of the international component of research… Doing so with a trusted partner as the UK… is a great opportunity to strengthen France’s science capabilities abroad,” said Retailleau.

A Unified Approach to Global Challenges

The collaboration extends beyond bilateral interests, aiming to enhance the global scientific community’s ability to tackle pressing challenges.

This includes participation in Horizon Europe, the world’s largest research collaboration program, and the Copernicus component of the EU space program, underscoring a shared commitment to advancing Earth observation research and other critical scientific endeavors.

The UK-France AI safety partnership, in particular, positions France within a growing international network focused on AI safety testing, joining similar UK agreements with the US and Singapore.

This collaborative effort reflects both countries’ recognition of the need for global cooperation in ensuring the safe development of AI technologies.

Celebrating a Legacy of Innovation

As 2024 marks the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale, the UK and France look back on a history of joint achievements, from the Concorde to the Channel Tunnel, and forward to future collaborations like the MicroCarb satellite project and membership in CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

This initiative is part of the UK’s broader strategy to engage in bilateral science agreements globally, demonstrating its commitment to fostering international scientific collaboration.

The partnership with France, a key ally and a leader in science and technology, is a testament to the UK’s global ambitions to drive scientific breakthroughs and innovations.

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Written by Thu 29 Feb 2024

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