Orange Digital Ventures: helping AI to help humanity

Artificial intelligence will help make our lives easier in the future. If it’s misused, however, it could intrude on our right to privacy. That’s why respecting Orange values, ethics and “Human Inside” philosophy is at the heart of the selection process for start-ups supported by Orange Digital Ventures. Rémi Prunier, Investment Manager, tells us more.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) covers a set of technologies that are gradually entering all business sectors. Unavoidable in the future, it is already used by Orange today, to maintain and optimise our networks, improve customer experience through chatbots and develop new cybersecurity services. A further example is Djingo, our virtual assistant driven by artificial intelligence, and key tool used within Orange Bank. It’s therefore natural for Orange Digital Ventures (opens in a new window), our investment fund which aims to support start-ups with disruptive business potential, to focus on AI and more specifically on machine learning and predictive technologies.

For Investment Managers who, like me, are responsible for selecting the start-ups that Orange Digital Investors might invest in, there is a broad choice. Among the 1,200 project leads we meet each year, a large number are integrating AI into their business activity, whether it’s a core part of their project or a simple tool that will help it.

Then there’s the selection process itself. For this, we adopt a similar approach to a conventional investor. We make sure the company fits with our own strategy, that its offering is disruptive and has market potential. We take into account the team, the product, the competitors, any previous funding… as well as the potential synergies between the start-up and Orange.

In addition to these general criteria, there are additional criteria specific to AI. First, we’re interested in the main AI applications that are predictive technologies, human-machine interfaces or decision-making assistance. Each of these can apply to several verticals (manufacturing, finance, business…). We also ensure AI is at the heart of the solution and not just a marketing ornament. In addition to ongoing self-training, the team can also ask the Group’s AI experts for support in this analysis phase.

Finally, we evaluate the risks. Not the ones around “super AI” that will take over mankind expressed by some: that’s still far off! Our main concern is to ensure compliance with ethical criteria and the right to privacy. Orange promotes responsible use of AI in business and beyond. The Group’s approach is also illustrated by our participation in think tanks such as the Digital Society Forum and Microsoft’s “Impact IA” in France. At the same time, we’re investing in the French ecosystem through the Orange Fab France accelerator and participating in the European AI4EU initiative. Finally, our many AI researchers are also very active in the ecosystem.

Of course, AI’s impact on society will be significant. But if you go back two centuries, many craftsmen were frightened by the arrival of industrial machines and feared they would take their place. Yet, after a transition period, mechanisation advanced society and generated many jobs while reducing the burden of human labour.
In the same way, AI will impact all business sectors, bringing about new solutions and creating new opportunities. The start-ups we support will make a positive contribution, especially in terms of our Human Inside philosophy. Orange is careful to keep ethics at the heart of everything.”

Rémi Prunier

“Our main concern is to ensure compliance with ethical criteria and the right to privacy.”

Rémi Prunier