Meta taps Hugging Face for startup accelerator to spur adoption of open source AI models

Facebook parent Meta is teaming up with Hugging Face and European cloud infrastructure company Scaleway to launch a new AI-focused startup program at the Station F startup megacampus in Paris.

The underlying goal of the program is to promote a more “open and collaborative” approach to AI development across the French technology world.

The timing of the announcement is notable, coming amid a growing push for regulation and a marked conflict between the “open” and “closed” AI realms.

Many of the major tech companies including Microsoft, Google, and ChatGPT-developer OpenAI, are arguing for more regulation and warning of the existential threat posed by AI, even though they are simultaneously developing powerful AI technologies themselves. Some of these arguments center on the risks of open source AI, and how it could be manipulated by bad actors. On the other side of the debate is the notion that these tech companies are merely scaremongering to force regulators into supporting a more “closed” AI development ethos, ultimately protecting themselves from competition.

Meta is very much in the latter camp. Last week, the company’s chief AI scientist Yann LeCun joined more than 70 other signatories in calling for more openness in AI development, warning against too much regulatory haste.

“History shows us that quickly rushing towards the wrong kind of regulation can lead to concentrations of power in ways that hurt competition and innovation,” the letter noted. “Open models can inform an open debate and improve policy making. If our objectives are safety, security and accountability, then openness and transparency are essential ingredients to get us there.”

And it’s against that backdrop that Meta is teaming up with one of the biggest players in the open source AI space.

While Meta itself has been open-sourcing its own generative AI models, Hugging Face — a billion-dollar VC-backed startup in its own right — has set out its stall as a sort of open source alternative to OpenAI, replete with open alternatives to the likes of ChatGPT and spearheading community projects such as BigScience.

So in many ways, Meta and Hugging Face’s tie-up today makes a great deal of sense, given their respective stances on the whole “open” vs “closed” AI discussion.

“For me, open source AI is the most important topic of the decade as it is the cornerstone toward democratizing ethical AI,” Hugging Face CEO Clément Delangue said in a statement.

Open foundation

From today through December 1 (2023), startups can apply to join the new “AI Startup Program” at Station F, with five winners proceeding to the accelerator program that will run from January to June. The chosen startups, selected by a panel of judges from Meta, Hugging Face, and French cloud company Scaleway, will have at least one thing in common — they will be working on projects substantively built on open foundation models, or at the very least can demonstrate a “willingness to integrate these models into their products and services,” according to the announcement issued by Meta today.

“With the proliferation of foundation models and generative artificial intelligence models, the aim is to bring the economic and technological benefits of open, state-of-the-art models to the French ecosystem,” the announcement noted.

It’s somewhat notable that Meta has chosen to sidestep the major cloud infrastructure companies — and open-source AI naysayers — such as Microsoft and Google, instead opting to partner with a smaller, independent European player in the form of Scaleway.

Indeed, the winning startups will receive mentoring from researchers and engineers at Meta, gain access to Hugging Face’s various platforms and tools, and compute resources from Scaleway.

While it would be incorrect to say that Meta has given up on its lofty metaverse ambitions, much has changed in the past 12 months. Almost exactly a year ago, Meta teamed up with L’Oréal and French business school HEC to launch a startup accelerator at Station F focused on all-things VR/AR/MR. But with the ChatGPT and generative AI hype train gaining steam, Meta has had to refocus its efforts on something a little more near-term, which is where this new accelerator program enters the fray.


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