Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, September 26, 2023

‘Every Tech Company Will Be an AI Company’: Hugging Face’s $235M Vote of Confidence 

Hugging Face announced it has raised $235 million in a Series D funding round led by Salesforce Ventures with participation from a host of tech giants including IBM, Google, Amazon, Nvidia, Intel, AMD, and Qualcomm, as well as Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures. The company is now valued at $4.5 billion.

Hugging Face is a developer community and platform with open source AI and machine learning resources like models, datasets, ML demos, and libraries. The company claims it accelerates AI deployment by providing MLOps solutions including customized support, training, fine-tuning, deployment services, APIs and more.

One popular resource is the Transformers library, a Python package containing open source Transformer models for text, image, and audio tasks that is compatible with PyTorch, TensorFlow, and JAX deep learning libraries. The company also has a platform called Hugging Face Hub that hosts Git-based code repositories, models, datasets, and applications.

The company was founded in 2016 by French entrepreneurs Clément Delangue, Julien Chaumond, and Thomas Wolf. Hugging Face originally purveyed a chatbot app for teenagers, marketed as an AI friend that could entertain with its cheeky conversation. In 2018, Hugging Face released an open source version of PyTorch BERT, the conversational AI model behind its chatbot, leading to its renewed focus as a machine learning platform.

Hugging Face previously raised $100 million in a Series C round led by Lux Capital in May 2022: “At Hugging Face, we know that Machine Learning has some important limitations and challenges that need to be tackled now like biases, privacy, and energy consumption. With openness, transparency, and collaboration, we can foster responsible and inclusive progress, understanding, and accountability to mitigate these challenges,” the company said in a blog post at the time.

The company will use the Series D funds to increase its current 170-employee headcount and invest in its technology, according to a Reuters report that also quoted CEO Delangue: “In five years, every tech company will be an AI company.” Another report from The Information claims that Hugging Face could generate more than $30 million in annual revenue.

(Source: Twitter)

Open source AI is an alternative development paradigm to the closed source, commercial AI that is often called a black box due to the nebulous nature of its training data and configuration. Companies often keep their proprietary code under wraps to maximize profitability, offering users little opportunity to peer under the hood or extensively customize their models.

Proponents of open source AI with its publicly available code say it promotes transparency and community-driven enhancements, as anyone can inspect, modify, and distribute the related software and frameworks.

Some companies like Meta are bridging the gap by releasing open source versions of AI models like Llama-2, its 70 billion-parameter LLM trained on two trillion tokens of raw text, hosted by Hugging Face. Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion model is another example of an open source model hosted on the platform.

Series D-backer IBM has contributed over 200 open models and datasets on Hugging Face, including its recent Geospatial Foundation Model built in collaboration with NASA. Additionally, IBM said in a release it has plans to host Meta’s Llama 2-chat model within its watsonx AI platform, saying it will further the company’s strategy of leveraging both third-party and proprietary AI models to maintain open innovation.