Europe rising: Mistral AI's new flagship model outperforms Google and Meta and is nipping at the heels of OpenAI

Aiming to be the most capital-efficient company in the world of AI, France's Mistral AI is challenging Silicon Valley's dominance. And fast.
Europe rising: Mistral AI's new flagship model outperforms Google and Meta and is nipping at the heels of OpenAI

When talking tech and the giant, ubiquitous firms we all use daily — the vast majority are to be found outside of Europe.

Ironic, as although the foundations of today’s internet can be found in an American initiative that called for a communications system in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, it wasn’t until British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee approached his employer, Geneva-based CERN, in 1989 with a proposed new way of structuring and linking all the information available on the facilities’ computer network. This proposal would ultimately give way to what we know today as the World Wide Web.

Berners-Lee would also bestow upon the world the first ‘browser’, a mechanism that was capable of presenting this revolutionary structure, hypertext markup language in an easy-to-read format, however, could only be used one specific type of computer, those made by NeXT.

If the name NeXT is ringing any bells, you’re correct, it’s the computer company founded by Steve Jobs in 1985, a year after he was forced out of Apple.

And in come the giants

In 1993, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign would unleash a browser that was easy to download and install, was operating system agnostic, provided simple point-and-click access to the World Wide Web, and was the first browser to display images inline with text as opposed to in a separate window. 

This recent graduate? Marc Andreessen. The browser? Mosaic. By April of 1994, together with entrepreneur James H. Clark, Andreessen had established the Mosaic Communications Corp. October of the same year saw the company release a revamped version of Mosaic, known as Navigator, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Missed opportunities

While Europe wasn’t completely shut out (for better or for worse) of the subsequent rise and fall of early e-commerce, also known as the dotcom bubble, it had missed a golden opportunity, one the US market had clearly grasped. 

A second wave of internet successes, one that would see two computer scientists, one hailing from Lansing, Michigan partner with another born in the Soviet Union develop an algorithm that would give way to Google, was largely missed out on, again, by European companies.

Second fiddle no longer

However, as we witness the dawn of a new set of progress, one that sees Artificial Intelligence as the dominant player, it’s clear that at least one European company and its three co-founders, Arthur Mensch, Guillaume Lample, Timothee Lacroix, are betting that their agility and efficiency in building and deploying AI system ensure that Europe won’t be playing second fiddle this time around.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mensch said:

“We want to be the most capital-efficient company in the world of AI. That’s the reason we exist.” 

While a great number of investors on French AI startup Mistral AI’s cap table hail from the US, the firm made a splash on the scene in mid-2023 with a €105 million Seed round led by Menlo Park-based Lightspeed Venture Partners, and waves again in December with an intake of €385 million in an Andreessen Horowitz led round,  it’s clear that the startup is taking square aim at the field’s dominant incumbent, San Francisco-based OpenAI. 

This position was further evidenced yesterday evening when Mistral AI, announced the launch of a new flagship large language model called Mistral Large, one designed to take on OpenAI’s GPT-4, as well as a new service dubbed Le Chat, a direct shot across ChatGPT’s bow.

According to the firm, its latest offer achieves top-tier reasoning capabilities and can be used for complex multilingual reasoning tasks, including text understanding, transformation, and code generation and is natively fluent in English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian.

When put to the test under the commonly used MMLU (Massive Multitask Language Understanding) benchmark, Mistral AI’s Large is second only to GPT-4, but only marginally, outperforming similar offers from Google and Meta.

Comparison of GPT-4, Mistral Large (pre-trained), Claude 2, Gemini Pro 1.0, GPT 3.5 and LLaMA 2 70B on MMLU (Measuring massive multitask language understanding).
Comparison of GPT-4, Mistral Large (pre-trained), Claude 2, Gemini Pro 1.0, GPT 3.5 and LLaMA 2 70B on MMLU (Measuring massive multitask language understanding).

Microsoft plays the field

The prowess of Mistral AI isn’t going unnoticed, with perhaps the most eye-opening segment of yesterday’s announcement that a partnership with Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor and shareholder at 49 per cent, will see Mistral AI’s open and commercial models available to Microsoft’s cloud computing platform Azure.

As a point of comparison, in the same interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mistral AI CEO Arthur Mensch said that Mistral AI’s new model cost less than $22 million to train, whereas OpenAI’s lead, Sam Altman has previously stated that his firm’s flagship offer, GPT-4, cost over $100 million, and today, is only marginally outperforming what Mistral AI has cooked up.

A rallying cry for Europe

To be fair, Mistral AI does hail from US-based roots. At the time of Chat GPT’s launch in November of 2022, Mensch was still working under the service of Google, while Lacroix and Lample were working at Meta Platforms’ artificial-intelligence lab in Paris, but as history has shown, just because an idea or technology finds its origins doesn’t mean that its titans need to share the same colour passport.

While Europe has made many, many attempts, some with varying degrees of success, to challenge US tech industry dominance, If Mistral AI’s story thus far doesn’t serve as a rallying cry, we might as well sound the alarm and scuttle the ship.

Lead image via Mistral AI.

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