Billionaires including Eric Schmidt plow $300 million into a non-profit that is France’s latest push to catch up in AI

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Billionaires Xavier Niel, Rodolphe Saadé and Eric Schmidt announced a new nonprofit artificial intelligence research lab in Paris, marking France’s latest push to develop sovereign AI technology. 

Niel’s Iliad and Saadé’s CMA CGM SA will each invest €100 million ($108 million), the two businessmen said on a panel of the AI-Pulse conference in Paris on Friday. Former Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt, also present at the event, will invest an undisclosed amount via Schmidt Ventures. 

The lab, called kyutai, will have €300 million in total funding and produce open-source research, the investors said. Some of its scientists previously worked for Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Meta Platforms Inc. 

France is looking for ways to get a foothold in AI as countries race to harness the emerging technology for economic growth and influence. US tech giants such as Microsoft Corp., Google and Inc., are investing billions of dollars into developing AI, dwarfing European efforts. 

Niel and Saadé are both seed investors in France’s buzzy Mistral AI, a generative artificial intelligence startup founded this year which in September released its first large language model. They also invested in Poolside AI, whose American founders chose Paris as their base.

CMA CGM, which is grappling with a slump in the shipping industry, plans to use AI to optimize its operations, HR and customer relations tools, a spokesperson for the company told Bloomberg.

Friday’s conference included several scientists who had been hired by the new lab. The group includes former Valeo SA science director Patrick Perez, former Neil Zeghidour and Laurent Mazare — formerly of Google’s DeepMind — and Hervé Jégou, Edouard Grave and Alexandre Defossez, who are Meta alumni. 

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