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UK and France announce new AI research partnership

29 February 2024

Ahead of the AI Safety Summit taking place in France this year, new funding will see the two countries work together to strengthen the two countries’ approach to AI safety testing AI safety initiatives.

New funding to boost research collaboration and a new partnership to further global AI safety are part of measures announced by the UK and France on Thursday, 29 February.

The French Minister for Higher Education and Research Sylvie Retailleau visited London for her first face-to-face meeting with Secretary of State Michelle Donelan since the UK’s association with Horizon Europe.

The two ministers will build on the already extensive links between British and French scientists, researchers, and businesses – which historically has led innovations like the Concorde making commercial supersonic flight a reality and the engineering marvel of the Channel Tunnel – by endorsing a joint declaration to strengthen UK-French research ties even further.

This includes a commitment to £800,000 in new funding towards joint research efforts both the UK and France are already involved in, such as Horizon Europe, to unlock more UK-France joint bids for grants to support cutting-edge R&D.

This could spearhead research that improves lives around the world; under Horizon’s predecessor, British and French experts worked together to bring potential HIV-AIDS vaccines to the clinical trial stage.

They will also announce a landmark new partnership between the UK AI Safety Institute and France’s Inria (The National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology), to support the safe and responsible development of AI technology.

This comes ahead of France hosting the next in-person AI Safety Summit later this year, which will build on the historic agreement on frontier AI testing struck between world leaders and businesses at the UK’s world-first Summit, last year.

The French-British joint committee on Science, Technology and Innovation – which now meets for the first time – also represents a unique opportunity to bring key influencers from across both countries’ research sectors together, to work on shared and promising opportunities for R&D teamwork across the Channel: from low-carbon hydrogen and space observation, to AI and research security.

It will meet every two years to boost UK-France scientific cooperation in priority fields, such as emerging technologies like AI and quantum.

UK Secretary of State Michelle Donelan said: “The links between the UK and France’s brightest minds are deep and longstanding, from breakthroughs in aerospace to tackling climate change. 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.

“Research is fundamentally collaborative, and alongside our bespoke deal on Horizon Europe, this deepening partnership with France – along with our joint work on AI safety – is another key step in realising the UK’s science superpower ambitions.”

“This joint committee is a perfect illustration of the international component of research, from identifying key priorities such as hydrogen, AI, space and research security, to enabling collaborative work and exchange of ideas and good practices through funding,” added the French Minister of Higher Education and Research, Sylvie Retailleau.

“Doing so with a trusted partner as the UK, who just associated [with] Horizon Europe, is a great opportunity to strengthen France’s science capabilities abroad, and participate in Europe’s strategic autonomy openness.”

The UK-France joint declaration reinforces the campaign that is underway to supercharge UK researchers’ opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in France, across Europe, and beyond through Horizon Europe: the world’s largest programme of research collaboration.

This push is emphasising the opportunities for European firms and researchers to collaborate with the tens of thousands of UK companies eligible for Horizon Europe grants.

The UK is also participating in the Copernicus component of the EU space programme, providing a host of opportunities for our Earth observation sector, researchers, and the public.

Besides AI safety, the agreement looks at joint work on space, hydrogen and research security.

The AI partnership between the UK and France’s AI institutes brings France into a growing global network that is collaborating on AI safety testing. The UK has already agreed on similar partnerships with the US AI Safety Institute, as well as the government of Singapore.

As the UK’s nearest continental neighbour and a science and tech world leader, France is a natural partner for UK researchers – while the UK, as home to four of the world’s top 10 universities brings its own research and innovation strengths to the table. 

In the past, pooling the two countries’ expertise achieved things that were previously thought impossible – from Concorde making commercial supersonic flight a reality, to the engineering marvel of the Channel Tunnel.

Today, that work continues at the cutting edge of science and research, such as through the MicroCarb joint satellite project, and both countries’ membership of CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.

All of this comes alongside 2024 marking the 120th anniversary of the UK and France signing the Entente Cordiale.

This is the latest in a series of bilateral international science deals the UK has signed recently, which include partnerships with the Republic of Korea, Israel, India, Switzerland and South Africa, as well as recent international digital deals such as the UK-Japan Digital Partnership.

These bilateral agreements, alongside the Horizon association, demonstrate the UK’s global ambitions to deepen collaboration with leading lights in science right across the globe.

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