PARIS — Kering and L’Oréal are among five founding, corporate sponsors of Hi! Paris, a French research center focused on artificial intelligence and data. The new center was unveiled Tuesday by the two prestigious higher learning institutions behind it, the French business school Haute École de Commerce Paris and the Institut Polytechnique de Paris.

“We were persuaded very, very quickly to get involved, to be among the founding members of this initiative,” said François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive office of Kering, speaking on a video presentation. The executive described working with teams on the subject in the U.S. — in Palo Alto and New York — and noting that there were a lot of French nationals among the teams.

“The idea is to have an initiative with great ambition in France, which also brings together education, research and companies. I think that these are conditions for success in this area in particular,” said the executive. 

L’Oréal chairman and ceo Jean-Paul Agon described the importance of artificial intelligence and data for the beauty business.

“It’s the next big revolution. At L’Oréal we already lived through the digital revolution — it started in 2010 — and as predicted, it was a tsunami that knocked everything over, changed everything, transformed everything — for the better, by the way — and I’m convinced that data, artificial intelligence is the next big revolution,” he said.

“So it is super important to prepare employees, train young people, and be able to bring about this revolution in our company and all companies,” added Agon.

The other founding corporate sponsors are consultant firm Capgemini, oil major Total, and electric supply company Rexel.

The institutions aim to recruit 30 professors and 150 doctorate students, and bills itself as the first interdisciplinary and cross-institutional center in Europe that brings together education, research and innovation. It will draw on a pool of researchers at the two educational institutions who study the subjects.

Leaders of the French institutions have been frustrated to see France lag the U.S. and Asia, they noted in the online presentations. 

“It’s to solve problems…the uniqueness of our center is to bring these skills together to provide solutions to some of the biggest issues,” said Eric Labaye, president of Institut Polytechnique de Paris and president of École Polytechnique, describing its use during times of crisis, as policymakers struggled to figure out where the economy was heading.

“We need the MIT of France, here you take a world-class engineering institute, you take a world-class business school, you bring them together and you create a kind of magic, you create new ways of thinking about these kinds of problems,” said Peter Todd, dean of HEC Paris.

“France has dedicated a lot of funds to AI. We want to build here a worldwide ecosystem, the U.S. and Asia are leading that competition today and we want to be part of the best countries in AI all around the world,” said Cedric O, France’s junior minister for the digital economy.

“We think we have a card to play and we want to be at the table of the best country in the world,” added the minister.

Agon noted the center could come as a “credible alternative to Gafa and technology companies based mainly in the U.S. and Asia,” using the acronym that refers to tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

Kering has been using artificial intelligence to personalize customer experiences as well as improve operational efficiency.

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