February 29, 2024

Clément Delangue, CEO of Hugging Face, doesn’t like the tendency of big tech companies to hold on to machine learning codes like business patents. Instead, he’s working to build a world where every developer or startup can freely access artificial intelligence models — effectively helping AI become open source.

Today, Hugging Face democratizes the development of the most consequential technology of our time. The platform serves more than 50,000 organizations using its services, including more than 300,000 models, 100,000 applications and 50,000 datasets. And his approach stands in stark contrast to other AI developers, who tightly guard their own technology and models.

“We need more companies and organizations to share their models and datasets publicly and in open source so that everyone can understand and build AI themselves,” Delangue tells Quartz.

Delangue co-founded Hugging Face in 2016with the company initially operating as a chatbot for teenagers before upgrading to an open source provider of Natural language processing (NLP) technologies. The platform would later open source popularly major language models. “I think through the open source model you can do things a little bit differently… you can, as a startup, empower the community in a way, and create a thousand times more value than you would through a proprietary tool to build,” Delangue said in a 2021 interview.

This fall, a team of Stanford researchers issued a report tracks how much information AI makers such as OpenAI, Meta, and Google disclose about building their models—and stated that none of the most prominent developers share enough information about their potential impact on society. Delangue says that this year Hugging Face strove to make this issue his calling card. “A major achievement was also advocating for more openness and transparency with policy makers,” says Delangue.

Delangue credits transparency as a reason Hugging Face has become a widely used open platform for AI builders—and his approach has struck a chord with developers, too. As his fellow technology executivesDelangue testified about AI on legislative floors. Speaking at a hearing of the US Congress in June, he underlined how the AI ​​field is dominated by a few wealthy companies “that give limited or no open access to new AI systems, including those based on open research.”

But even as Hugging Face criticizes the big tech behemoths who shroud their AI tools in secrecy, it has also found a way to work with them. Hugging Face’s pitch attracted heavyweight investors including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, Nvidia and Qualcomm. In August it was valued at $4.5 billion.

Hugging Face bills itself as the community building the future of AI development, and its platform has already drawn comparisons to a Github for AI. In 2024, Delangue is looking at a growth milestone: 10 million users on the platform. As AI advances, Hugging Face is moving developers into something that resembles a community effort—driving the way toward system sharing, collaboration, and feedback.

This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.

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