Cloudflare TV

Le Internet - Episode #3

Presented by Karl Henrik Smith, Grant Humphreys, Nandini Jayarajan
Originally aired on 

In this episode, the hosts discuss national innovations that have shaped France's history and culture, and the impact those innovations have on society and technology.

You can have a say in our next episode! Take a moment to fill out our poll at


Transcript (Beta)

Welcome everyone. As always, my name is Karl Henrik and I'm joined by Nandini and Grant, my two co-hosts.

Happy to report that our poll results from episode one to episode two jumped from two to six.

So that is a 300% jump. Strong results there. And today we are going to be talking about France's national innovations.

So to kick off the episode, just some initial thoughts from the both of you.

What are your thoughts on this topic and any innovations you've picked out that strike your eye?

Nandini, go for it. Oh, fine. I actually had a little bit of a challenge with this one because it's like, what is an innovation and what is an invention?

And are they the same thing? And then you're like, well, if you think about like recent innovations, like, is it really an innovation if it just happened?

Like, I mean, like when the smartphone came out, did we automatically all know that this is like a huge deal?

I mean, Google Glasses came out around the same time.

So it's a little tough. It was a little challenging for me to figure out, you know, what was good for this episode.

But going like way back when, I think my favorites were canning and pencil sharpener as French inventions.

Also, of course, pasteurization, super cool. But I kind of like the idea of like canning and pencil sharpeners just because it's like these, they're these everyday items that you kind of forget were needed to be invented to begin with.

And I thought that was cool. Yeah. And I, you know, Nandini, just like you, I kind of was wondering what's the difference, right?

You have an invention, you have an innovation, you know, what's the difference there, right?

And there are some inventions that are innovations and there are some innovations that are processes that, you know, one could argue are not inventions, right?

So, I mean, I kind of went old school too.

I mean, the ones that jump out are, you know, no pun intended, parachutes, stethoscopes.

And, you know, as you kind of look at it, France and the Internet itself tends to put forward their early 17th, 18th and 19th centuries contributions to science, medicine, and chemistry.

And, you know, one can easily forget that, you know, a coding language like ProLogic was invented by a Frenchman.

You know, other things for computers that have made things easier, you know, that to me strays more into, I guess, innovation of coding this or adding, you know, this functionality to something that has been, I guess, the new wave, relatively new wave of French inventions, you know, in the digital age.

And I wonder with how we talked about last time with their startup culture, it looks like they're kind of trying to become a center of innovation again, based on what the government is kind of putting forward and funding all of these, you know, nascent, you know, from a tech perspective, deep tech things.

Very interesting.

And it's funny, it's the French always want to be on the avant -garde, right?

The cutting edge. So that to me speaks to the Frenchness, if I could say, of the innovation, right?

It's, we're going to invent something, but we want it to be so new and revolutionary.

It might not be picked up in years or might not be talked about a lot, but you'll know it's there.

I mean, it helps. Pencil sharpener is another case, right?

But I'm actually curious, just the process of inventing in France.

I wonder if, you know, with patents and especially from a tech perspective, what their process was.

I did some research and it looks like in general, the European Union seems to have some stricter as paperwork required for inventions.

I don't know, Carl or Nandini, if you saw some of that, but at the same time, I don't know if there's as many inventions and kind of like we talked about last time where any idea could be funded in America, that might not be the same in France.

I'm wondering if people tend to be a little more conservative, be like, I want a fully thought out thing and submitting one patent, not 20 patents that end up doing one thing or get combined into one function.

What do you guys think? Yeah, you know, I'm not too familiar with that from researching different French innovations, but I do know that there are definitely kind of vested interests on the state level whenever a new innovation or invention will come out.

I think the first thing that comes to mind is Frankie Zapata.

If you're familiar with him, he was the inventor of a hoverboard in France, and he came up with this idea for a kind of mechanical flying hoverboard that was powered by his backpack with jet fuel inside of it.

So last year, he became the first person to ever cross the English Channel by hoverboard, and it took him 20 minutes to do that.

And I think one of the really interesting things there is before long, the state got involved, right?

On Bastille Day, he was flying over the kind of old, old fashioned soldiers and tanks, and Macron tweeted a photo and said, proud of our army, old and new, right?

Or modern and innovative.

But it's also just kind of hilarious to see this guy, you know, fly around Green Goblin style over like really old fashioned tanks and old fashioned soldiers.

So before long, I think his company got $1.3 million in funding for the French military, which kind of, you know, presumably happened because they don't want him to privatize world peace, you know?

So I think that's one example of definitely the state getting involved, if not at least on a patent level, in terms of like soft power and funding.

Yeah, and that's exciting. I didn't read about that one.

The hoverboard. I've been waiting for my board since Back to the Future, and it's about freaking time.

So yeah, time to get Marty McFly here and get off. It probably takes gigawatts of energy.

I'm kind of interested to see how that works. Marty McFly didn't have like a backpack with jet split fuel on his back.

He had a very cool jacket.

That's true. But kind of, I wanted to, you know, highlighting just, I see a lot of like key inventions, like something, some technology as a seed will exist.

And I think French inventors have consistently made a process closely associated with something much better.

So like, you know, a phone, you know, you have Alexander Graham Bell, and you have all these other people that claim, oh, who invented the first phone, sonogram, all this stuff.

But a Frenchman invented a camera phone in 1997, right?

So that, to me, speaks towards, there's both the ability to say something net new.

People have always wondered, how do I fall from a height and not die parachute, right?

Oh, this phone is great. You can call people. And then, you know, it's amazing.

His name is Philippe Kahn. How does Philippe think of, it'd be great if you put a camera on the thing that you call people with.

Yeah, that leap of logic would be so, I don't know, it just speaks to, I think, that innovative mind.

Camera or the phone, you know, we don't think anything of it now, right?

But yeah, that's amazing, I think. I was kind of thinking around this, having that same sort of thought process when I was looking at a lot of the French startups that are the ones to watch are so, like, there's so many good lists out there.

One in particular, like Dr. Leib, they're actually valued at a billion dollars and considered a unicorn startup now.

They start as like a medical appointment scheduler, and now they do video consultations.

They're thriving during COVID.

And I sort of like what you were just talking about, when I look at Dr.

Leib, there's so many telemedicine organizations and companies out there right now.

And what is it about Dr. Leib that is making them so much more popular? Is it the tech?

Is it their process? Is it the outreach? And I mean, granted, you know, I just did like a cursory deep dive, and I can't figure it out, like why this one versus any of the other ones on the market, why is this one succeeding?

But yeah.

What differentiates Dr. Leib from kind of other similar medical apps out there?

I'm honestly not even sure at all. They all kind of look like it's the same process to me.

But no, but it's interesting, because I mean, there were a couple other ones, like, I mean, like you were saying earlier that like deep tech is, I mean, at this point, I feel like deep tech, both the phrase and, you know, everything that falls under that is uniquely French, probably just because of all the work that we've been doing on this.

But I mean, even if you're thinking about like AI, and like machine learning, and all those other things, they're, they're popping up in startups, that you wouldn't immediately think of, like, oh, that's where the coolest innovation is like, like Miro, for example, also a very successful startup that I think is going to do really well.

It's essentially like a photographer marketplace, though, it's matching clients with freelance photographers, and they were the AI and machine learning is like coming in is like where they're using it for like photo editing to be able to automate that system.

And, and I guess like the, the technical skill and knowledge and innovation that's like going into that probably has a lot more applications, but that of all places is where the development is happening.

Another one, Yubo is the social media startup also using AI, I kind of imagine though that you that Yubo is probably using AI in a similar way that like Twitter, Facebook, other social media giants do too, as well, like, you know, to like automatically verify age and like trying to detect the inappropriate behavior that we see online and things like that.

So that one, I think is like, a little bit more obvious. But yeah, I don't know where it's going to come out from.

And like, I mean, if you were talking about French innovations from like way back when, but, you know, they're kind of right there in front of us as well, like Ubisoft with this Assassin's Creed video games, those are French.

Orange Telco, like also French. There's also Schneider Electric, which I feel like I should know more about being working at Cloudflare.

But, you know, they're an energy IT for homes, data centers, infrastructure, and they're huge.

And they're just kind of like there and in front of us.

It's cool. Well, I did want to bring up something not to mention the furball in the room here.

But BowBow is very appreciative. My little puppy here. There is a pasteurization and Louis Pasteur also invented a way to help combine with canned food that basically all dog food is, right?

It's dehydrated freeze-dried, sometimes put with palm oil.

And, you know, he loves that. And, you know, maybe hoping to have him on some more of these in the Internet episodes, but he is getting a little feisty.

So he's going to have to say goodbye. So we wanted to introduce him first.

I'm going to have to let him go here for a second.

He's just running around. Pasteurization.

I mean, you talk about Louis Pasteur, and I think there's this misconception that he invented vaccines and he was the first person to come up with the idea of a vaccine.

I know it's a hot topic right now, you know, given everything, but pretty sure he started with a vaccine for anthrax, although the actual inventor of a vaccine was like him before him.

So his actual like real innovation was the pasteurization process.

That was something that he's widely credited for even today.

Yeah. I think it's either him that people get confused about for vaccines or the other French inventor of penicillin.

I cannot say his name.

I'm not going to try it. I'm not going to do it. You guys can all look it up.

It's fine. It doesn't look French. It probably is, but I can't say it. I do think there's something to be said.

I mean, in the U.S., we will always have things like made in America, you know, products invented in America, American innovation, American dream allows you to do this.

And I think France is very similar, albeit a little different on how they market national inventions.

And that could be a discussion, too, about how post -colonialism with you've got tons of these inventors who identify as French, speaking French, publishing, you know, this technology written up in French and submitted as a French invention.

And their last names, their surnames are Khan or, you know, they're African, they're West African, they're Southeast Asian, right?

They're Syrian or, you know, Palestinian or from the Middle East.

And I find it fascinating how France then kind of just says, yes, lift you up.

You are a Frenchman and an innovative Frenchman, right?

In America, we have that, oh, you know, you're an African American writer or African American inventor.

You're an Asian American politician. You're, you know, immigrant, recent immigrant American, I don't know, media personality, right?

Whereas French becomes, you've done it, you're French.

This is a French invention. French people should use it.

And look world, look at what France has provided you.

I know the U.S. does that, too, but I'm interested to hear what you guys think about that kind of presentation of inventions.

Yeah, we talked last episode about brain drain.

I feel like just post -colonial, post-colonialism in general, or the colonialism process is the ultimate form of brain drain that you could possibly have, right?

And the idea that when you're revered for something you've done, if you've done it well and your invention works, then, you know, sure, by all means, at that point you're credited with, you know, the proper nationality.

But if you haven't, you know, maybe, maybe you're not quite from here, right?

So, so there is a bit of a, there is a bit of a kind of delicate, delicate balance there in terms of recognizing accomplishments.

But same thing, I think, when there was one, one example of an invention that I think today more and more companies are trying to kind of take ownership of it, and that is brai, right?

So brai is the form of communication for those who are unable to see, those who are blind.

And it was developed, I think, in the early 1800s by Louis Braille, who was blind, I think, already at the age of three.

So, you know, he invented it when he was a teenager, kind of the National Institute of Blind Children in Paris.

And the basic symbol, I'm sure you've seen it on, on elevators or soda cans, consists of six dots arranged in kind of a rectangular formation.

But today, the interesting thing about brai is it's kind of being adopted by companies in their marketing efforts, right?

So in Japan, soda and beer companies and can manufacturers have started putting brai on different soda cans in order to avoid people getting, you know, just intoxicated accidentally.

And we also have the example of Lego, which actually recently, just last week, released Lego pieces in brai with brai on them to help people learn during the COVID -19 pandemic, right?

So helping kids with disabilities just learn a new form of communication, whether or not, you know, they themselves are blind.

So I think all of these initiatives are really cool to see, not just kind of taken and adopted by these companies, but also like the way in which they give back.

Very cool. I actually just realized that I've probably been saying the word wrong all these years.

I learned it as braille, but I guess brai is probably right. Yeah. I think braille might be the English way.

If you want to say it French, you'd say braille, all the same.

But yeah, no, so I just thought that was a really, you know, interesting way of melding that discussion of inventions and innovation, because arguably the format by which brai comes from is an innovation.

It's new. It hadn't been used before, but all of these initiatives that these companies are doing and these organizations are doing, those are inventions, right?

Like they're coming up with new, exciting ways of using that innovation and then adopting it to create something new.

So I think those are the things that if you worry about, you know, patents and intellectual property, that's where that discussion starts to become a bit more murky.


And that was something that was kind of funny. Like literally every article that I was reading that was talking about like French innovation or latest, you know, like the inventions over time and everything like that, every article would end with like, look, despite French regulations, these companies are still able to thrive and like do great.

And you're like, cool, awesome. How did they do it though?

It does actually kind of like make me wonder what, how, like, it's very cool that, you know, France is becoming this hub and like, there's so much, there's so much work putting into creating an enabling environment for this type of work.

But there's, and everything you look at on the Internet is very like made in France.

These are all the initiatives that we're doing, the visas and everything like that.

But there's not, it's really tough to actually like get an understanding of how difficult is it actually to get through all the different checks and regulations and everything like that.

Like when I think about Dapoli, which I imagine, you know, is super hard to get through things.

Most healthcare companies in the United States as well, like it's going to take you like a minimum of like, you know, like five to 10 years to even have like a working product that you can even test on like patients or clients or whatever it is, because, you know, it is one of the more regulated markets in the U .S.

I can only imagine you have that as a minimum baseline in France.

So like how do these companies, I'd love to hear a story or understand, get a better understanding of like, what are the different steps that someone has to go through in order to get different pieces of the product or business to market?

I can kind of say that from my research and looking around is, you know, I can't speak specifically, but the process is, I think, longer.

And I think there's a higher threshold of, call it sureness, call it well-bakedness, call it readiness before each step.

Again, things in the U.S., I have an idea, look at this, throw money at it.

You kind of have that ability for venture capital to be injected right away.

And we have a lot of regulations or lack thereof of regulations that can allow things to run very quick.

And, you know, classic story, I think in the U.S.

is one of the countries where the law is furthest behind some technology innovations, correct?

I mean, look what we're doing with Facebook, Google and all of them right now.

And I won't speak too much to that, but I believe that in France being kind of how we talked about in the first episode about the conservatism, even of the language itself, that, you know, bleeds into, is this okay?

Is this a good idea? Will this affect other people's rights? Will this cause this problem?

And because of that, I think French inventors specifically are very careful about this is what it is, this is what it does, and we're leading with this is what it does now, not this is what could do.

And then later, boom, it branches out.

And I've seen that from things as old as, you know, inventing motion cameras for cinematography.

Like, hey, look, there's photography, we've got movable photography here, this is what it does, let's use it for this.

Or like, you know, the military balloon, the military balloon will help you see people fighting over there.

They didn't say it'll open up air travel and all this, right? And I think that's even the case with BRI as well.

This will help blind folks communicate, not, this will be a revolutionary new language that other people learn to, you know, purposely fully uplift the well-being of blind folks, blind people, right?

So I know that's a very long-winded answer, but I just, I believe, and I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that it's very, one regulation here, make sure this, right, committee here, a lot more bureaucracy for, I think, good reasons.

But, you know, where's that trade-off between can you innovate as quickly and have more, you know, as we celebrate failure in the U.S., whereas I think France is a little more cautious about that.

It's a fascinating way of putting it, because I agree, like, you have to frame innovations and inventions in an economic, like, what is the economic benefit of these things rather than the humanitarian element, which is more just a byproduct, like, great, we have something that is beneficial for humanity, but ultimately, is this something that, you know, we can, we can make money off of and something that will be successful?

Because if you have something that is arguably good for humanity, but that isn't scalable, or you can't share it with other countries in a timely way, well, then the benefit is really more just in your mind, right?

So, going back to your point on innovation, we've talked about this in the first couple episodes, and I think in France, it's very easy to feel like there are more constraints on that culture of innovating nationally.

One example of this is, like, the digital services tax that they imposed on American tech companies.

You know, they have this, like, 3% tax on companies making over a certain proportion of revenue, and most of those turned out to be US-based, but I think that's kind of a rebuke that people will often throw to France and say, well, this is why you don't have as many innovations in the technological sphere, is because you don't have a kind of homegrown incentive system for this.

And I can see kind of arguments on both ends there, but it is something that will often be levied at regular kind of policymakers there.

I wonder also if it's, like, the myth and ideal and the image of what we think about when we think about who an inventor is, right?

Like, especially when it comes to technology, we still have, like, the Steve Job and Bill Gates, like, you know, like, image in our minds of them working in their parents' garage to, like, you know, come out with, like, these computers.

And I kind of, like, I mean, like, one, I feel like that holds back, that image kind of holds back potential inventors in the United States, but I also kind of, like, wonder if that's a global idea of, like, what an inventor looks like.

So, which honestly doesn't seem like it'd be that easy to do if you're in Paris, you know?

Like, most people, sure, the living with their parents part makes sense, you know, because, like, most people still live, you know, with their families and stuff like that, but, like, where are they going to have a space for an entire garage to, to, like, make stuff, you know?

Or, like, this other idea of, like, the entrepreneur startup guy that quits his job and has no personal life and is just, like, hunched over a laptop and coding away until he creates something amazing, like, how realistic is that in, like, well, one, in any economy or, like, let alone the French economy to be able, like, don't you need money to be able to, like, live and then also create?

I, yeah. I mean, I suppose, too, like, how does that then, that person then get funding, right?

Will they go to invest at Providentiel, right, the angel investor, investor of Providence, right?

Which, again, leads to kind of how, Carl, you were talking.

In the U.S., we see a lot of things that begin and seem, unfortunately, to end with money.

I have this idea that can make this more efficient, that can drive a bottom line, and whether it is that before or after, it turns into, oh, great, this is awesome.

This, this new CDN technology could be great and allow us to, you know, have our content be better for people so they, you know, maybe they'll buy more, right?

It's a very cynical way to look at it, but I see a lot of French inventions that are raised up by the French people, especially in the government, as being purely humanitarian.

You know, look, we photograph. Now people can take pictures, movies, look at, you know, what has cinema done for world culture and things like that.

So I would be very interested to know, too, like, how does that affect it, right?

In the U.S., to me, it just seems to always be, you've got this idea for us to give you money, show us how you can make money.

You know, you can fail, that's fine, but then what does then this lead to that can get us more dollars or get more people more dollars, whereas, I don't know, I wonder if Philippe, when he invented the camera phone, was like, look, people can just have one device instead of carrying a camera and a phone.

You know, it doesn't even, when you look him up, it doesn't even say, like, he was, oh, he was working with a major phone company.

It's just, he invented this.

Now we have it. I wonder, I really, I really wonder if, and I can, I can say for sure that I think the motives are different and the views of invention, inventions and innovation are judged differently and are viewed differently from a Francophone aspect versus an Anglophone one, like we have.

And I'd be interested to see if that changes, if France then promotes more of a Silicon Valley-esque hub of startup for deep technology.

Will we see it be more like, hey, here's this code that could make this better and make more money versus, hey, this code could, that could be open source and then could really help the world and make the Internet better, right?

I don't know. I know, I know we only have a couple minutes left, so I do want to make sure that we plug our poll at forward slash le Internet.

I'll lower it a little bit. Yeah. A little bit further.

Hold on. There it is. I also put it on the Cloudflare TV. You can see it at Cloudflare TV forward slash live on the calendar.

If this is not clear enough, but to close us off, I would like to ask a question of the two of you, which is what invention, you know, French or otherwise, do you think has been the most impactful for humanity as a whole?

Very open question. I would say written language. Yeah.

And then I'm kind of similar with just the invention of film. I consider them, you know, without France, no photography and no, you know, cinema essentially.

Yeah. The Brothers Lumiere invented that, right? I mean, that's kind of the birth of photography, which is really, really great.

I was also going to go with the written language, so I will not do that and just go ahead and be very standard and say the toilet, because, you know, let's be honest, the toilet has changed all of our lives immeasurably.

We're too fancy for holes in the ground.

It's true. Well, I know we're out of time. Thank you both and catch up with everyone next week.

Thanks for watching. Transcribed by