Ousted OpenAI CEO Altman welcome in France, minister says

PARIS (Reuters) - Ousted OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is welcome in France, France's digital minister said in a statement on X, a day after the board of the company behind ChatGPT fired Altman without giving a reason.

"Sam Altman, his team and their talents are welcome in France if they want to," Digital Minister Jean-Noel Barrot said in a statement on X on Saturday.

In May, during on a trip through European capitals for talks with political leaders, Altman met with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the place of France and Europe in the global race for artificial intelligence (AI).

Microsoft-backed OpenAI released its ChatGPT chatbot in late 2022. It uses generative AI meaning it can learn from past data to create new content including text, images and computer code.

In a video message to tech leaders on Friday, Macron said generative AI has huge potential and that France plans a conference about AI in Paris next year.

He added France had been an AI pioneer five years ago, with a dedicated strategy and a 1.5 billion euro budget.

Macron said it is a "civilisational challenge" for France to make sure AI algorithms are not only fed English-language content.

"I want it to also reflect our French culture and language and our way of thinking," Macron said, adding France would open its databases to AI, while protecting copyright and ensuring adequate regulation.

Macron also welcomed the launch this week of Kyutai, a non-profit AI research laboratory founded by French tech billionaire Xavier Niel, French CMA CGM shipping group chief Rodolphe Saade, and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Niel's Iliad Group and CMA CGM have each contributed 100 million euros to Kyutai, which has total investments of nearly 300 million euros.

At the start of his first term in office, Macron pledged he would fight to prevent France from falling behind U.S. and Chinese tech giants, but five years later, no European firm is among the leaders in generative AI.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by Jason Neely)