GT: How is French society and government adjusting to the new technological age?

Laffitte: I think that France has a very good connection to what we call telematics, the connection between computer science and telecommunications.

We developed the Minitel system 12 years ago. Now, we have more than 7 million Minitels in France, which means that about 20 million people are acquainted with the types of services which only began recently in the rest of the world.

We have more than 20,000 different services with Minitel, including air ticketing and banking. This means there is a very good connection with the people as to what the Information Age can give, produce and help.

At the same time, the French government has begun a lot of different experiments, just like in the United States. For instance, in the Sophia Antipolis in the south of France, we have ATM loops with 10 ATM switches connected to 50 or 60 big companies.

We have also developed groups there in order to mix users and content providers, and another group to mix content providers with cable operators or television, to look at what would be useful for society, business, health care and so on. In this specific region, about 50 different experiments have been done.

We have experiments which we think are on the leading edge of health care. We have an international connection between France and Tunisia, for instance, for [telemedicine].

It's very important for us to be aware that the Information Technology Age could diminish the distance between the haves and have-nots, and the Information Age shouldn't further divide those who don't have access to information and those who do have access. So we have many specific programs which are devoted to helping the people within the poor communities.

GT: What specific projects are there for dealing with the haves and have-nots?

Laffitte: Well, some of [the projects] are intended to provide [people] the possibility to express what they want and to be in connection with other communities. In other words, to see that they are not left behind.

It's a type of therapy which is very positive. We also have some experiments putting together different small schools to interact through the Internet, including schools in Switzerland, Tunisia, Quebec, and maybe now in New York, in order to provide a broader view of what is going on while they are very young.

GT: How does France view the role of government in resolving or lessening disparity between the haves and have-nots?

Laffitte: Well, we think that the role of cities, of regional and local authorities and of government [is to] help. France thinks that experiments should be done by private enterprise or by an association or foundations.

GT: Do you see the French approach as different from the United States' approach to this issue?

Laffitte: Not really. Maybe the French government has a tradition of being more directly involved. The funding from the government may be higher than here, where the states and the local governor have more powerful direct contact.

Generally, the type of approach is not very different, in my opinion. What is more different is our approach on the health-care system. We are now beginning to develop the national health-care system using smart cards.

In France, the smart-card system is very effective. This smart card could be like a dictionary of health, and would be protected. Only doctors could have access to it. This type of system could help doctors see if other things have been done before, and what shouldn't be done again, and so on. It would help diminish the cost of social security and reduce red tape. This is now an experiment in different regions, and it will be expanded.