The $2 Billion Emoji

Newly valued at $2 billion, the AI 50 debutant originated as a chatbot for teenagers. Now, it has aspirations—and $100 million in fresh dry powder—to be the GitHub of machine learning.

When Hugging Face first announced itself to the world five years ago, it came in the form of an iPhone chatbot app for bored teenagers. It shared selfies of its computer-generated face, cracked jokes and gossiped about its crush on Siri. It hardly made any money.

The viral moment came in 2018—not among teens, but developers. The founders of Hugging Face had begun to share bits of the app’s underlying code online for free. Almost immediately, researchers from some of the biggest tech names in the business, including Google and Microsoft, began using it for AI applications. Today, the chatbot has long since disappeared from the App Store, but Hugging Face has become the central depot for ready-to-use machine-learning models, the starting point from which more than 10,000 organizations have created AI-powered tools for their businesses.

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