AI: an indisputable regional scientific identity

Publish on 22/01/2020
The CNRS (French National Centre for Scientific Research), the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research centre, the University of Lille and the University of Picardie Jules Verne are combining their forces with those of all of the higher education and research actors in the region, with the aim of federating and stimulating a research of excellence in artificial intelligence in the Hauts-de-France region.
Illustration IA
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Exceptional AI forces present in the Hauts-de-France region

The Hauts-de-France region hosts internationally recognised researchers in the two main research themes in artificial intelligence: numerical AI and symbolic AI.

As a result, renowned scientists are conducting their research activities in artificial intelligence at the Lens Research Laboratory for Computing (CRIL - CNRS/University of Artois), in the joint Inria/CNRS/École Centrale de Lille teams within the Research Centre in Computer Science, Signal and Automatic Control of Lille (CRIStAL - CNRS/École Centrale de Lille/University of Lille) and the Painlevé laboratory (CNRS/University of Lille), at the Modelling, Information and Systems laboratory (MIS) of the University of Picardie Jules Verne and in the Fundamental and Applied Mathematics laboratory of Amiens (LAMFA - CNRS/University of Picardie Jules Verne).

The starting point for numerical AI is data, and one of its fields of study is machine learning. In 2018 Daniele Calandriello, a PhD student from the Sequel* project team - Inria/CNRS/University of Lille - won the France AI Best Thesis prize*. International conferences on AI regularly take place in the Hauts-de-France region, due to the presence of these internationally renowned scientists. For example, the EWRL (European Workshop on Reinforcement Learning), featuring prestigious guest speakers (Rémi Munos, future Deepmind Paris director and Richard Sutton, founder of reinforcement learning, etc.), will be taking place in Lille in October 2018. It will be sponsored by companies such as Criteo, Deepmind and Facebook.

Symbolic AI, for its part, uses human knowledge and reasoning. This scientific theme is currently arousing renewed interest since it enables the decisions taken by artificial intelligence to be explained and new knowledge that is intelligible to humans - beyond the data themselves - to be generated.

The CRIL, a University of Artois-CNRS laboratory, is the only laboratory in France totally dedicated to this subject. The 2017 AI Best Thesis prize was won by a CRIL PhD student, Eric Piette*. Another example is the organisation of CP 2018 (International Conference on Principles and Practice of Constraint Programming), a major international conference in the field, taking place in Lille.  

The regional stakeholders' scientific project aims to combine these two AI research themes in order to serve advances in artificial intelligence and its deployment within society.

Artificial intelligence: how can it be understood? 

Research in AI is constantly progressing and the subject is playing an increasingly important role. It raises questions and expectations, but also fears - rejections, even. Two needs are becoming increasingly urgent: explaining the decisions taken by so-called AI systems and supporting the dissemination of the advances of AI within society. This is why the regional scientific identity is emerging around a central theme: the link between artificial intelligence and humans, via the concept of explicability. At a time when AI is being extended to numerous uses and has direct impacts on everyone - healthcare, autonomous vehicles, security, financial analysis, e-commerce - it is essential to provide explanations and justifications on the recommendations made, or the decisions taken, by artificial intelligence systems in order to ensure their acceptability.

The explicability of AI is a real scientific challenge, which will mobilise researchers for several years; taking on this challenge will, however, make it possible to support the deployment of AI within society. This challenge is the key objective of the regional laboratories in artificial intelligence.

Local authorities, companies, research centres, universities, schools...: the ecosystem is structuring itself to enable a “human-friendly”AI to emerge.

The regional scientific community in AI is structured around the CNRS, Inria, the University of Artois, the University of Lille and the University of Picardie Jules Verne, in partnership with the graduate engineering school École Centrale de Lille, the University of Technology of Compiègne, the graduate school IMT Lille-Douai, the Hauts-De-France Polytechnic University and the University of the Littoral Côte d'Opale.  These scientific forces of excellence receive significant support from public actors - the Hauts-de-France regional authority, the French state, the inter-communal structures Métropole Européenne de Lille and Amiens Métropole, and economic actors such as Amiens Cluster, Entreprises et Cités and EuraTechnologies. In addition, companies like the French cloud computing company OVH and IBM have also shown interest in this structuring approach, as have other actors - who are just as essential - around uses such as healthcare, energy and mobility. This means supporting the deployment of AI in all of its forms, from research to its uses.

A word from the stakeholders

The French state  

Michel LALANDE, prefect of the Hauts-de-France region

"The Hauts-de-France is a special area for the implementation of the national strategy defined by the French president during his speech at the Collège de France on 29 May. Its aim: to make France and Europe leaders in artificial intelligence. This means reinforcing - in France and in Europe - the artificial intelligence ecosystem and pursuing a resolutely open data policy, disposing of substantial financing whilst thinking out the terms of a political and ethical debate, enabling trust in the innovations it brings to be guaranteed. The internationally recognised excellence of our public research and our economic actors and the dynamism of their collaborations are major assets for the development and experimentation of new applications that are open to Europe and the world, in particular in the fields of the economy, healthcare, energy, mobility and training."

Hauts-de-France regional authority 

Nicolas LEBAS, vice-president of the Hauts-de-France regional authority, responsible for Higher Education, Research, Europe and Regional Planning

"Artificial intelligence represents a real societal, technological and economic challenge, and the Hauts-de-France regional authority - a fertile breeding-ground in this field - intends to play a full part in it. Indeed, the Hauts-de-France has indisputable assets in order to welcome an artificial intelligence institute, in particular numerous research laboratories whose work is supported by the regional authority, but also companies that are already proposing operational solutions in AI.  The AI institute in the Hauts-de-France will reinforce a structured and strong regional community, contributing to the development of our area by placing people at the heart of its action."

I-SITE University of Lille Nord-Europe

 Gilberte CHAMBAUD, president of I-SiTE University of Lille Nord – Europe

"Supporting the collective ambition of addressing the major challenges of society today and giving access to the actors of the socio-economic world to the researchers' expertise, the founders and partners of I-SITE ULNE have defined a scientific strategy around three 'hubs' - healthcare, planet, digital world - with a strong desire for interdisciplinarity. Although AI is at the heart of the 'digital world' hub, it is also essential in the other two hubs - which are also priority sectors identified in the Villani report. With a key role given to the human and social sciences, the AI approach lies at the heart of the I-SITE dynamic, whilst also strengthening the links between the founder members and the partners."


Pascal AUSCHER, director of the French National Institute for Mathematical Sciences and their Interactions

Michel BIDOIT, director of the French Institute for Information Sciences and Technologies and their Interactions

"Recent successes, which contribute to the current widespread media coverage of AI, were achieved thanks to the convergence of several factors (availability of large volumes of data, development of specialised computing architectures, development of software tools) but also result from significant scientific advances on models and methods with the hybridisation of techniques coming from different sub-fields of mathematics and computer science. Through its laboratories in the Hauts de France - in particular the CRIL (Lens Computer Science Research Lab), CRIStAL and LPP (Paul Painlevé laboratory) - the CNRS has been working on the development of these methods, which are behind AI's success today, for several decades.  In order to be acceptable to society, the results obtained by AI systems still, however, need to be explained and certified. This is the challenge that the project will address."


Isabelle HERLIN, director of the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research centre

"After having visualised the international recognition for our scientific forces in the field of artificial intelligence, it quickly became evident that we needed to structure ourselves.  Thanks to a resolutely partnership-based approach, we have brought together the region's laboratories in order to be able to address the crucial issue of AI's explicability. Today, we believe that it is essential to understand and explain how an algorithm takes decisions, and we are equipped to take on this challenge."

University of Artois

Pasquale MAMMONE, vice-chancellor of the University of Artois

"The University of Artois has a laboratory of excellence, specialised in artificial intelligence - the CRIL. This year, the international visibility of this laboratory led the University of Artois to define an additional major area of interest for the establishment, focusing on artificial intelligence, and whose backbone is the CRIL. And so, it was only logical that we took part in the partnership-based approach around AI. This approach, which is part of the Hauts-de-France region, is led by internationally renowned research teams and major actors in the economic world. Its aim is to make the decisions taken by machines comprehensible to humans. The complementarity of the scientific approaches around artificial intelligence adopted in our region and the resulting synergies are major assets in order to successfully carry out this necessary and ambitious work, which will enable the use of AI to be firmly rooted in our daily lives."

University of Lille

Jean-Christophe CAMART, vice-chancellor of the University of Lille

"Even before the Villani report, artificial intelligence had an important place within the University of Lille. With the development of digital technology, several training courses and research laboratories in different fields (mathematics, computer science, but also ethics, law, etc.) have already incorporated the important issues of the development of AI methods and their uses.

We therefore have solid foundations, and we must now join together with the other forces present in the region in order to collectively reflect on the question of AI explicability, or how to make the decisions taken by AI methods understandable to humans. This is our shared objective."

University of Picardie Jules Verne (UPJV)

Mohammed BENLAHSEN, vice-chancellor of the University of Picardie Jules Verne

"Our approach to AI is, through its collaborative dimension, an illustration of UPJV's desire to contribute to the regional higher education network in the Hauts-de-France. Consequently UPJV, with the support of its research units in mathematics and ICT/engineering sciences (LAMFA and MIS  respectively) aims to contribute to the boom of the digital revolution both academically - by carrying out fundamental research whose core lies in the explicability of AIs - and economically and socially through the development and support of this "intelligence" serving business development and, by extension, employment. To this end UPJV - in partnership with the inter-hospital public structure MiPiH, Amiens Cluster, the university hospital CHU Amiens-Picardie, the customer experience association AFRC, Orange Bank, etc. - will specifically focus its efforts on the analysis and hosting of healthcare data, as well as on customer relations."

Amiens Cluster

François-Xavier LEVEL, managing director of Amiens Cluster

"Amiens Cluster is three areas of specialisation: e-health and individualised care pathways with the Le Bloc cluster, energy autonomy with the Energeia cluster, and new digital uses and customer relations with the ADN cluster.  It also means a common strategy: combining these regional specificities around artificial intelligence with, in particular, the Hauts-de-France AI structuring project and its skills offering, which is of an international standard."

Entreprises et Cités

Pascal BOULANGER, president of Entreprises et Cités

 "With regard to human-computer interaction issues, one of the main challenges of the arrival of artificial intelligence in our businesses is the manipulation and exploitation of the data.

The competitive advantage that our major international companies bring to our region must be passed on through a robust development of research in general and in the information technologies in particular. Our teams need to be able to rely on a world-class offering and, each time the opportunity arises, we will support the opportunities to join forces with the public/private cooperation programmes. You go faster by yourself, but together you go further."


Raouti CHEHIH, CEO of EuraTechnologies

"For EuraTechnologies, joining such an adventure is a matter of course. Since its creation in 2009, we have continuously sought to anticipate the major technological trends and their impacts on the transformation of our society. Consequently, EuraTechnologies has defined AI as a strong strategic line of action for the next five years of activity, particularly in supporting the emergence of talent (students, professionals, etc.), the sourcing and support of start-ups in the field of AI and, finally, the building of a solid ecosystem capable of anticipating these challenges (labs, major groups, investors, etc.).  And so it was only natural that we committed to this approach alongside all of these key partners."


Octave KLABA, founder and CEO, OVH

"OVH's business is assisting companies with their digital transformation by providing them with cloud infrastructures adapted to their needs, thanks to 28 data centres across 12 sites and four continents and our own global fibre network. The desire to supply the world with technologies enabling its transformation has been part of OVH'sraison d’êtresince the company's creation in 1999. That is why, today, we are supporting the regional actors' structuring approach around AI, by providing our expertise in the design of cloud architectures. Our role is to provide optimised infrastructures for the processing of information linked to the field of artificial intelligence that can meet the requirements of all the projects developed thanks to the research work originating from this initiative."


Gregory RENARD, xBrain co-founder and chief AI officer

"AI has the potential to transform society. Our region has remarkable scientific and economic forces in AI that can lead to a regeneration and place it at the cutting edge of international technology. With one foot in Silicon Valley and the other in our region, I passionately and enthusiastically give my complete support to this initiative and will be delighted to be a part of it. I very much appreciate this project's focus on the profoundly human aspect."

Amiens Métropole

Alain GEST, president of Amiens Métropole

"Our region is rich in many skills, of an international level, primarily in the fields of e-health, energy storage and customer relations. For each of these sectors, the mission of Amiens Cluster - whose founder members are Amiens Métropole, the city of Amiens, UPJV, the CCI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and the CHU - is to federate expertise and reinforce synergies. Artificial intelligence is a significant lever for development in order to do this. Our university, the UPJV and its laboratories are vital partners in carrying out this strategy. The fact that we can unite our strengths at the Hauts-de-France regional level with a common project around AI is, without contest, a major asset."

Métropole Européenne de Lille

Damien CASTELAIN, president of the Métropole Européenne de Lille

"Healthcare, transport, telecommunications, retail, security...artificial intelligence impacts on numerous areas of activity and, as a result, our fellow citizens. There are many challenges involved in deploying AI in our societies. We need to be able to make the subject and its issues understandable.  Our region is ready to take on the challenge. Together with all of the regional actors and the scientific community, the MEL is committed to making this initiative a success!"

* SequeL is a joint Inria project team with the CNRS and the University of Lille within the Research Centre in Computer Science, Signal and Automatic Control of Lille (CNRS / Centrale Lille / University of Lille)

*This prize, from the French Association for Artificial Intelligence (AFIA) was awarded jointly with Nawal Benabbou from Sorbonne University/LIP6.

*This prize, from the French Association for Artificial Intelligence (AFIA) was awarded jointly with Michaël Perror, University of Saint-Etienne