France, a world leader in artificial intelligence? This wishful thinking currently comes up against the difference in considerable resources invested by the real locomotives in this sector: the United States and China. But one remontada takes place. An unexpected alliance between Xavier Niel (Iliad), Rodolphe Saadé (CGA-CGM) as well as Eric Schmidt (former “boss” of Google), gave birth to a brand new laboratory of excellence in AI based in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris. Kyutai, piloted by six world-renowned French scientists presented at Station F this Friday, November 17, has an initial budget of nearly 300 million euros for its operation. A substantial sum – unprecedented for a structure of this kind in the country – aimed at creating multimodal artificial intelligence models (processing text, voice, image at the same time) as well as uncovering the secrets which still surround this technology. And, it must be said, to retain the big names in France with the best possible salaries. The two French bosses have each invested 100 million euros, to which is added a participation (not communicated precisely) from the American Eric Schmidt (former boss of Google), to the tune of several tens of millions of euros.
Independent in its research, Kyutai nevertheless benefits from the support of a scientific committee represented by Yann LeCun, head of AI at Meta. As well as technical infrastructure provided by Scaleway, a subsidiary of Iliad, which also revealed a partnership with Nvidia in the creation of a cutting-edge supercomputer.
“They could invest in art, but they choose AI”
The specificity of this laboratory is its “open science” and “open source” positioning, non-profit (the word “foundation” is also used to describe it). All the advances made by researchers – including many former Google DeepMind and Meta professionals such as Hervé Jégou and Laurent Mazaré – will be shared within the artificial intelligence community. As are the models. Everyone is then free to take advantage of it, why not within the framework of companies this time for profit.
Despite the absence of direct commercial outlets, the influence of this laboratory is set to consolidate France’s place among the “top nations in AI”, underlined Jean-Noël Barrot, at Station F. The Minister of Digital s is delighted with the almost philanthropic nature of the investment by Saadé, Niel and Schmidt. “They could invest in art, but they choose research in AI instead,” laughed the vice-president of MoDem. “We want to act for the common good and not depend on technologies invented elsewhere,” explained Xavier Niel.
As explained by L’Express, however, it cannot be ruled out that this laboratory will evolve one day. After all, OpenAI, the originator of ChatGPT, was also a non-profit company in its early days. But Kyutai’s real inspiration lies rather with DeepMind, a British structure financially supported by Google when it was created in 2010, at the origin of phenomenal breakthroughs in AI. What happens, sometimes, when research finds itself so well funded. This is the bet that France is making, through two of its greatest businessmen.