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Google DeepMind scientists in talks to leave and form AI startup

A pair of scientists at Google DeepMind, the Alphabet Inc. artificial intelligence division, have been talking with investors about forming an AI startup in Paris, according to people familiar with the conversations.

The team, including DeepMind scientists Laurent Sifre and Karl Tuyls, is exploring the formation of a company tentatively named Holistic. These scientists are considering a funding round that could surpass €200 million ($220 million), a substantial amount even in the AI sector. The potential venture aims to develop a new AI model.

Sifre and Tuyls have not provided comments despite several requests. A representative from DeepMind has chosen not to comment on the proposed startup plans. According to an insider, both scientists have given notice to depart from the company, but the information remains confidential.

Sifre played a key role in the influential 2016 DeepMind research on Go, demonstrating a computer system’s mastery over human experts in the ancient game. This groundbreaking achievement sparked global interest in AI. Meanwhile, Tuyls has focused on game theory and multi-agent reinforcement learning in his research—an AI branch delving into interactions among autonomous entities, frequently through video games.

Sifre and Tuyls, recognized as leaders in their domain, are indicative of heightened investor enthusiasm for the technology. The substantial financing round under consideration underscores robust interest in AI, especially in France. The country has witnessed significant investments from venture capitalists and business leaders in startups originating from Parisian universities and the AI centers of Silicon Valley companies.

Mistral AI, a competitor of OpenAI, was established in early 2023 by a former DeepMind executive. By the end of the year, the company had secured two substantial funding rounds, achieving a valuation of approximately $2 billion. Additionally, Kyutai, a nonprofit AI research lab, was founded in November with an initial funding of €300 million.

The new French startup under discussion is different from Holistic AI, an enterprise software business based in London.

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