Mistral Ai, Kyutai, these French startups champions of AI

His nickname is Nabu. This is how the engineers of Scaleway, a subsidiary of the Iliad (Free) group specialized in cloud computing, named their supercomputer, a silicon monster filled with a thousand processors. It bought Nvidia from California last year, will Nabu aka Nebuchadnezzar be the missing link in France’s entry into artificial intelligence (AI)? “Thanks to its advanced computing capabilities, this tool will be very useful for training the neural networks we will develop.», the director of Patrick Pérez is happy Kyutai, a new artificial intelligence research laboratory It was launched in Paris at the end of November. At the head of a team of six researchers, this artificial vision specialist should be one of the first to own this digital Ferrari.

A precious commodity to fulfill its mission of national interest: inventing artificial brains to fill the gap in France. the global success of ChatGPT and the shockwave caused by this chatbot shows once again the enormous dominance of the United States in digital technology. And the progress of its designer OpenAI, a startup launched in San Francisco in 2015 under the leadership of billionaire Elon Musk, once again questions our abilities to create heavyweights in this field.

However, France is not starting from a blank page. Also in the summer of 2021, more than a year before the ChatGPT revelation, Hugging Face engineers (180 employees), a startup founded by three Frenchmen in New York, built an artificial intelligence capable of conversing in 46 languages. Developed with the CNRS and researchers from 72 countries, this conversational robot hosted at the Saclay campus (Essonne) has unfortunately been unknown to the general public.

That didn’t stop Hugging Face from continuing its push Start-up support from American investment funds…. Through its platform, the startup offers about 500,000 neural network models. Experienced users can therefore try it for free, while 10,000 customers pay to deploy it in their company. A devilishly effective recipe for this Franco-American unicorn worth more than $4 billion and whose shareholders include giants Google, Amazon and Nvidia.


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Mistral AI, the French troublemaker challenging ChatGPT

In France, he now has to deal with the rise of the company Mistral AI. Less than a year after its creation, in June, this young sprout, encouraged by three big names from our best schools and passed through the Google and Meta AI laboratories, has already managed to make its mark. A special sign of this startup already valued at 2,000 million euros? The artificial brains it designs are much more demanding in computing resources than ChatGPT and therefore more expensive to implement.

In terms of performance, its latest innovation, presented in mid-December, has nothing to envy to ChatGPT-3.5, the penultimate version of the chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022, nor to Llama 2, the AI ​​presented by Meta. the summer But, with its thirty employees, the French troublemaker still seems far from competing with the world leader OpenAI and its approximately 800 developers, supported by Microsoft, which has already injected more than 10 billion euros.

Behind this new engine, a number of other start-ups are developing specific applications, for example dedicated to office productivity. “When ChatGPT was introduced to the general public in November 2022, we have already been working on an artificial intelligence capable of generating text for more than two and a half years.», said Laurent Daudet, CEO of LightOn. Founded in 2016, this 25-employee startup has developed a dozen specialized AIs, including PAGnol, one of the first conversational robots in French, or Alfred, an AI aimed at analyzing and commenting on a large documentary corpus. Its specialty? “Produce tailor-made AI, based on business needs, and scalable, because it improves over time thanks to the data sent to it.“, he explained.


Europe is setting a historical framework for AI: what will change

Dust, one of its competitors, only aims to design a new AI-based operating system dedicated to office tasks. It was created by two French graduates from Stanford University, Stanislas Polu – a defector from OpenAI! – and Gabriel Hubert, former product manager of health insurance specialist Alan, whose startup raised €5 million in the summer to continue its development. Its software, in particular, aims to respond to any employee request (“write me a report”, “a progress report on my annual goals”…) based on data centralized in the company.

Far from being limited to office typing, artificial intelligence is also helping senior managers make decisions. Thus, the Pigment startup founded by Eléonore Crespo, a former financial analyst at Google, offers support to managers in planning their financial strategy.

Other entrepreneurs have preferred to rely on the creative power of so-called creative artificial intelligence, which can now create images and even videos from simple instructions. Launched a year ago by former Apple artificial vision researcher Tomas Yany and Florent Facq, a polytechnic who worked at the Ministry of Culture, Pimento offers communication agencies a virtual assistant to create advertising campaigns based on simple briefs.

In the audiovisual sector, Animaj uses AI to produce cartoons faster and at a lower cost. Founded in 2022 by Sixte de Vauplane, former founder of Nestor (home meal delivery), this young company specializing in video content for children has already raised around one hundred million euros! And, of course, this wave does not spare the general public, as proven by PhotoRoom’s worldwide success. Made in France, this image editing application allows you to instantly remove unwanted people or objects from a photo or change the scenery. The app has more than 100 million downloads since its launch almost five years ago.

Undoubtedly, from all over the world, AI is being invited into our fields. near Valence, in the Drôme, Carbon Bee Ag Tech equips agricultural machines with a hypersensitive camera, trained to detect field diseases and weeds. Thanks to its artificial vision, it analyzes the color, shape and texture of the plant to decide whether or not to spray the herbicide, limiting the spread and therefore reducing costs by limiting contamination. Comfortable in clay, our Géo Trouvetou-designed cyber brains also know how to dive into the dirt to help the workers in the neck.


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The young company Cognitive Engines from Bordeaux, for example, produces artificial brains for factory robots to equip them with various capabilities, carrying large loads and sorting electronic components. Machines adapt after undergoing reward-based learning. When the task is completed correctly, the operator presses a green button, indicating that the robot needs to be inspired to perform other movements. Another innovation, Amiral Technologies, a spin-off from CNRS in Grenoble, predicts equipment failures. By analyzing the temperature, pressure, intensity of the electric current and even the vibrations of a machine, its software can predict possible failures. The company, specialized in the transport and energy sector, works with the SNCF in particular to anticipate RER or TGV breakdowns. And the railroad strikes?

Three main players of AI in France

Patrick Pérez, director of Kyutai

The Kyutai supercomputer. Alexis Anice

At the head of a team of six researchers, this central scientist with around thirty years of experience in artificial vision and machine learning is at the helm of the new laboratory jointly launched by the French telecommunications magnate Xavier Niel (Iliad) at the end of November, Rodolphe Saadé, head of CMA CGM in Marseille, and Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google. After working with Microsoft, Inria and the automotive equipment manufacturer Valeo, this scientist has a fortune of 300 million euros to create new AI for France to take to the air in this sector.

Clément Delangue, CEO of Hugging Face

A high-tech star, this French expatriate in the United States is a passionate promoter of open source artificial intelligence. There are no less than 500,000 algorithms available for free through its community platform. Google, Nvidia, IBM, Amazon, Intel, AMD and California-based management software publisher Salesforce are among the shareholders in his startup, which is valued at $4.5 billion after raising $235 million last summer.

Arthur Mensch, CEO of Mistral AI

A graduate (Polytechnique, Télécom Paris, Normale sup), this engineer spent three years at Google DeepMind, the internet giant’s artificial intelligence division, before officially launching his startup last year. With his team of around thirty developers, the engineer wants to build a European alternative to the American giants of the discipline. The fundraising of 385 million euros, completed in December, should further accelerate its developments, based on the design of artificial brains that consume less computing resources.

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