Categories: NewsWorld

Holistic AI is now H, a new French startup with US$220m out of the gate

A French artificial intelligence startup, simply called H, has raised $220 million in initial financing from a slew of billionaires and venture capitalists on the promise of building the next generation of powerful AI tools. 

For months, a group of French scientists who worked at Google DeepMind have been quietly pitching investors on their project, which they had called Holistic AI. The startup announced its new name on Tuesday and said it would produce models capable of reasoning, planning and performing complex tasks.

Billionaires Bernard Arnault — who invested through his fund Aglaé Ventures — Eric Schmidt, Xavier Niel and Yuri Milner took part in the round along with Accel Partners LP, Inc., Samsung and enterprise software firm UiPath Inc.

Charles Kantor, the startup’s chief executive officer and a former computational mathematics student at Stanford University, said the company is working toward “full-AGI” — referencing a type of superhuman AI that can be deployed across a wide range of tasks, which DeepMind-owner Alphabet Inc. and OpenAI have also said they’re striving for. H’s other co-founders are veteran engineers from Google DeepMind, who worked on some of the AI lab’s seminal research. 

“The H team’s vision of creating a large action model to automate business tasks has the ability to be transformational across all industries,” Philippe Botteri, a partner at Accel, said in a statement. 

France has become a hotbed of AI in Europe, drawing in investments from US venture capitalists and tech giants. Parisian startup Mistral AI raised more than $500 million since forming in early 2023. Mistral develops large-language models, like OpenAI’s GPT and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Llama, that power AI chatbots and image-generators. Bpifrance, which backed Mistral, is also investing in H. As are a number of French venture firms, including Elaia Partners and Motier Ventures. 

The newest French entrant is arriving in a crowded field. Several startups are working on AI agents — systems that perform range of tasks without human supervision and accomplish things that existing AI models can’t. Some companies are already using these agents to help with employee on-boarding and managing supply chains. Google, Microsoft and OpenAI are all working this “agentic” AI, which many in the industry have described as the next step in the field.

While courting investors, the founders of H highlighted their technical expertise in developing “multi-agent” AI — systems that interact and learn from their environment and each other. So far, that AI method has mostly been used in video games. 

Karl Tuyls, one of the startup’s co-founders, led the game theory and multi-agent research teams at DeepMind. In its investor pitch, H described this multi-agent approach as moving “beyond” current language models with AI capable of planning and memory, according to a presentation viewed by Bloomberg News.

On Tuesday, H said it had recruited 25 “AI engineers and scientists” for its initial team. The startup said it will build AI models “with capabilities across business and consumer verticals.”

Bloomberg News first reported on the startup’s existence and completion of the first tranche of its funding round. Business Insider previously reported details on the financing and some of the investors involved. Investors had discussed putting in roughly 40% of the financing in equity with the remainder coming in convertible debt, a vehicle increasingly used to purchase computing power for AI companies, people familiar with the matter said previously. H declined to comment on the details of its financing. 

According to an earlier company filing, UiPath put $32.5 million into the startup, splitting the investment into equity and convertible debt. In the release from H, the startup said it will be working with UiPath and other strategic partners on “commercial, market access and computing partnerships,” without providing further details. –BLOOMBERG

Dayang Norazhar

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