Macron’s tech for good push

French president Emmanuel Macron brought together 50 of the most powerful figures in world tech last week – including Mark Zuckerberg and Satya Nadella – to demand that they all focus more on creating technology for good. Is it time for UK politicians to follow that lead?

macron tech for goodTech firms must innovate more for the good of society, French president Emmanuel Macron told 50 of the world’s most senior technology business leaders last week – telling them that “there is no free lunch” encouraging unbridled digital business growth without them taking more responsibility.

The French president’s tech for good summit is understood to have focussed on how to deploy transformative tech to improve education, employment and diversity – and also how to limit the economic and social downsides resulting from artificial intelligence and automation.

Macron’s audacious move preceded the mega VivaTech event in Paris, which brought together over 70,000 technology professionals to the French capital. Included among the 50 summit attendees named by TechCrunch were Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, IBM chief exec Ginni Rometty and Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi.

Macron, who campaigned for election as a startup champion, told the 50 that he was a believer in innovation, drawing in investment into artificial intelligence and deep tech. But he said he wanted tougher regulations for the sector, including ensuring that tech business pay more tax at source.

“I believe in innovation and at the same time in regulation and working for the common good,” Macron told a press conference ahead of the summit.

France is repositioning itself as a firm supporter of digital innovation, with Macron’s personal commitment matched by the arrival of new tech infrastructure including the world’s biggest tech startup campus, in the heart of Paris, bringing together innovation and serious VC investment.

Macron’s welcoming position is also in contrast to.the more abrasive relationship emerging between Silicon Valley tech business and US president Donald Trump.

But Macron warned the 50 that “there is no free lunch. So I want from you some commitments.”

Could the French president’s move be replicated by politicians and industry in the UK? The relationship between big tech and government on the issue of regulation has become more fractious, as politicians voice stronger concerns about issues like mental health and online abuse. There is a good case for a UK summit, and not least because of the wide range of digital innovations created for social purpose.

Back in Paris, TechCrunch reports, IBM led discussions on education, while SAP addresses diversity. French prime minister Édouard Philippe told businesses that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

The French president is also reported to have held one-to-one talks with Zuckerberg, where he pressed for stronger commitments from the social media giant on data privacy.

Ahead of the Paris summit, Uber confirmed that it would be offering all its European drivers better health insurance, to counter criticism of poor treatment of gig economy terms and conditions.