The GitHub of AI is named after an emoji—and Microsoft has its fingers in it already

Recently valued at $2 billion, Hugging Face is a platform where AI's top minds share knowledge
The GitHub of AI is named after an emoji—and Microsoft has its fingers in it already
Illustration: Dado Ruvic (Reuters)
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A platform with a quirky emoji name is becoming the go-to place for AI developers to exchange ideas.

Founded in 2016, Hugging Face is a platform on which developers can discuss anything from bug tracking to API integration to overall project development. And with AI drawing massive enthusiasm about being the potential epicenter of future economies, the startup is in good position to stand the test of time.

“We are on a mission to democratize good machine learning, one commit at a time,” Hugging Face says on its platform. It is renowned for its large library, Transformers, which powers the creation of solutions based on the AI subsets of Natural Language Processing (NLP), machine learning, and computer vision.

Last year, the company closed a $100 million funding round that placed its valuation at $2 billion. Not surprisingly, Microsoft—which has been on the cutting edge of AI—has its fingerprints all over the young company.

As for the name: The Hugging Face emoji, which is usually a smiling yellow face with open hands as if giving a hug, is widely used across social media chats to mean appreciation, support, and care. The hand gesture denotes excitement, enthusiasm, or accomplishment, according to Emojipedia—fitting emotions in the rapidly evolving world of AI.

Microsoft wants to be on the cutting edge of AI

Microsoft, which acquired the hosting service GitHub in 2018 and pumped some $10 billion into OpenAI’s popular ChatGPT project in January, is already an anchor user of the platform.

Microsoft now has 500 team members on the platform, and has shared 246 models—programs that use training data to recognize patterns and make decisions—that have been downloaded millions of times by users. The Hugging Face platform hosts over 200,000 open-source models.

In a March release, Microsoft announced its partnership with Hugging Face to bring open-source models to its Azure Machine Learning platform. John Montgomery, Azure AI Platform at Microsoft corporate vice president, said at the time that the collaboration would simplify the process of deploying and scaling large language models. “It’s an exciting milestone in our mission to accelerate AI initiatives and bring innovative solutions to the market swiftly and securely,” he said.

But Microsoft warned users that as much as Hugging Face’s Transformer models are easy to try on the platform, “they can be challenging to deploy and scale for production-grade inference endpoints.” Microsoft then released a step-by-step guideline on how to deploy the models.

Amid the continued prominence of generative AI, Hugging Face has become the GitHub version for developers seeking more knowledge on the latest APIs and models to avoid being made redundant by the same technology.

Other Big Tech companies know they can’t afford to be left out: Meta, AWS, Google, and Intel now command over 1,300 free-to-download models on Hugging Face, according to data on the site.