Sono Motoyama in The Verve:
On a crisp Saturday morning in Orsay, a southwestern suburb of Paris with some 16,500 inhabitants, the rue de Paris was bustling. But while many residents were doing their usual weekend shopping at the fishmonger or the butcher shop, further up the street, in a small former chateau that is now the town’s cultural center, about 80 people had set aside their late-morning hours to hear the “voeux” of their legislative representative to the National Assembly, Cédric Villani.
The voeux, or “new year’s wishes,” are a standard exercise of French politicians from the president on down, in which they review activities of the past year and lay out projects for the year to come. Villani, a mathematician and Fields Medal winner (often shorthanded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics), was new to the practice; only six months earlier, he was still an academic. He was dressed as always — winter or summer — in a black three-piece suit, a shirt with cufflinks, a spider brooch on his lapel, and a large, floppy tie called a lavallière (today’s version in purple). He cut an unmistakable figure, sporting a three-day beard, his dark hair styled in a pageboy. He mingled, smiling with attendees, and posed for selfies before taking the stage.
The fact that a mathematician could be considered, as he is, a “rock star” — or, better yet, “the Lady Gaga of mathematics” — says perhaps more about the French than Villani. Nonetheless, Villani, 44, has become a darling of President Emmanuel Macron’s young technocratic government, accompanying the president to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in November and Beijing in mid-January. The government has piled the work on his desk, which is evidence, Villani says, of the need for people with scientific expertise in politics. But of all his projects — from math education to the future of New Caledonia to tax evasion — perhaps his most all-consuming mission is his task force on artificial intelligence and the highly anticipated report it’s set to release tomorrow. If successful, the report will help set the AI agenda in France and Europe for years to come.