Everyone with any knowledge of history at all knows that the Montgolfier brothers were the first successful balloonists, but fewer know just how big an industry aviation was in 19th. century France.
As early as the 1860s, trade shows featured projected airlines with only slight implementation problems , (like not actually being able to fly). There were genuine technical advances by people like Voisin, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gabriel-Voisin Farman and Bleriot.The extensive aviation vocabulary of French origin reflects this. (Fuselage, empennage, aileron, &c.)
Santos-Dumont, (who admittedly was Brazilian, but lived in Paris), and Bleriot played a major role in developing the wristwatch. https://theaviationist.com/2013/12/25/aviation-wrist-watches/ (Letting go of the controls to haul out a pocket watch was not exactly an option in early machines.)
The outbreak of WWI seems to have put a permanent end to the French leadership in the field. Nieuports and Spads played a notable role, especially for American involvement, but from the 1920s onwards, French aircraft seem to have become footnotes. (Not for any lack of mechanical skills, as a flourishing automobile industry testified.)
Even post-WWII, when the glorious French coachbuilding tradition faded, the same company, Citroen, could produce the agricultural simplicity of the 2CV, a self-propelled corrugated shed, and the elegant but horrendously complex sophistication of the DS.
Wonderful historical anecdotes on contribution by French scientists. @junko, it looks like most commentors on this article are American or US-based. I wonder what our French colleagues think? By the way, @kevin, you keep reading, and we'll keep funding journalism.
First, I think most readers will welcome an article looking beyond the US. True the US is the primary pole of tech innovation, but the technological revolution has obviously spread very quickly beyond the US. It is going to be very interesting to see how tech innovation is spread globally by say 2030 or so.
Regarding France (where I worked for a number of years in technology) I think the impetus provided by Macron and young french entrepreneurs and technologists is giving France a renewed credibility in technology matters - as reported in terms of CES etc. But I agree with those who say the critical test will be how France, with its very tight labour laws, can become more accommodating for businesses (tech or not) when they need to expand. Macron has promised change in this area and it will certainly be one of his big ticket items that he will tackle early on. He now looks set to win a big parliamentary majorty (the fear was that he would not have support in parliament for his projects) and this gives room to hope that he may prevail.
Knowing France, Macron faces an enormous challenge in reforming the labour laws. There will be large scale opposition from very strong unions. If he succeeds, France may be able to build on the startup culture. But if Macron is blocked, and only minor tweaks are made, I fear the current wave of optimism in French technology will sputter to a halt, and fade back into the night like a shooting star.
Wait--EETimes has a budget for foreign correspondents? Journalism is doing better than I thought.
I was thinking about my current field, error correction. The math is ultimately based on the math of Galois, a Frenchman who died around 1830. BCH codes were discovered by a Frenchman. Turbo codes came from France. France was important in the development of ciphers. The field should've flourished there or in Bletchley Park after the war. But instead, it was here, in a confluence of Bell Labs, JPL, and Silicon Valley, that the field catalysed.
France is a first-world country with a decent economy and a long history of science and mathematics. Yet the culture has always led to a business environment which is unfriendly to tech. I work in an environment where it's easy to get laid off, yet I've done much better here in the long run than I would've in France, where the laws are supposedly more on the side of the worker and it's much more difficult to be let go. The tax system is more redistributive, and if you are an engineer or tech executive, you are more likely on the side doing the distributing, and would prefer operating your business elsewhere.
In other news, Trump on the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) used on new aircraft carriers:
"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said–and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said what system are you going to be– "Sir, we're staying with digital." I said no you're not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it's no good."
I see I forgot to mention the branding under which MinTech was established. It was designed to secure Labour's place in "The White Heat of the Technological Revolution". Apart from being uncomfortably warm, that would also fail the compulsory diversity test of modern political correctness. It didn't do much for the economy, either.
@resistion, indeed, big chip vendors are merging left and right, and there is no end in sight for on-going consolidation trends. But what about startups? Are we seeing a slowdown in startup numbers in the U.S., I wonder?
Hi, Victor. I think your assessment that "France probably falls somewhere in the middle" is right. Much of the foundation -- engineering talents, projects and entrepreneurs' will for starting up a company were already there before Business France coming into play to nurture and accelerate startups' activities.