Microsoft backs French startup Mistral AI

Mistral's language models will soon be on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform.

Microsoft backs French startup Mistral AI
Arthur Mensch, cofounder and CEO of Mistral AI attends the AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park, near Milton Keynes, Britain, November 2, 2023. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Pool/File Photo

The backstory: OpenAI, a big player in the artificial intelligence (AI) world, has rocked the scene with ChatGPT, a tool that went viral faster than even TikTok or Instagram, reaching 100 million users in just two months. Then Microsoft jumped in with its Bing chatbot, and Google brought in Bard (later renamed Gemini). 

Microsoft's ties with OpenAI go back to 2020 when it invested US$1 billion in the firm, securing exclusive access to GPT-3's technology. Then, last year, Microsoft kicked it up a notch with another investment reported to be around US$10 billion. But this partnership raised eyebrows, especially in the European Commission, over potential competition issues.

On the other hand, European countries like France, Germany and Italy are pushing for support for AI startups like Mistral, often referred to as Europe's answer to OpenAI. Mistral recently secured 2 billion euros (US$2.16 billion) in funding, gearing up to compete with OpenAI's GPT-4 with its new large language model (LLM), Mistral Large.

The development: Microsoft has announced a new partnership with Mistral AI. The tech giant is injecting 15 million euros (US$16.2 million) into the collaboration to fuel global growth. This cash infusion will turn into equity in Mistral's next funding round. Plus, Mistral's language models will soon be on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, making it the second to do so after OpenAI. This collab will also roll out Mistral's multilingual conversational assistant, "Le Chat," to more users.

But this partnership isn't without its critics. Lawmakers in the EU are worried about Microsoft's expanding influence and want to dig deeper. On the flip side, Mistral is pushing for exceptions in AI rules, saying tough regulations could hurt European startups' chances to shine worldwide.

Key comments:

“We are thrilled to embark on this partnership with Microsoft. With Azure’s cutting-edge AI infrastructure, we are reaching a new milestone in our expansion propelling our innovative research and practical applications to new customers everywhere. Together, we are committed to driving impactful progress in the AI industry and delivering unparalleled value to our customers and partners globally,” said Arthur Mensch, Mistral AI’s CEO. 

"What is emerging shows even more that it was good not to water down our ambition on the safety of GPAI (general purpose AI) models with systemic risks, following legitimate but strong lobbying from companies like Mistral," said Brando Benefei, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) who oversaw the drafting of the AI Act.

"That story seems to have been a front for American-influenced big tech lobby," said Kim van Sparrentak, an MEP who worked closely on the AI Act. "The Act almost collapsed under the guise of no rules for 'European champions' and now look. European regulators have been played.”