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The French Grandes Écoles graduates at the forefront of finance AI

If you're an elite budding mathematician in France looking to study at one of the Grandes Écoles, you may have once wanted to study quantitative finance under industry legends like Nicole El Karoui. Nowadays, if you're looking to flex your mathematical muscles in finance (at least adjacently), you might want to join Mistral AI.

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Mistral, a French AI firm, today announced a partnership with BNP Paribas, providing the bank with access to current and future AI large language models made by the company. Mistral CEO Arthur Mensch said the firm is working closely with BNP and that he "eagerly anticipate[s] the expansion of the partnership." 

Mensch and, indeed, most of the Mistral founding team, are Grandes École alums. Mensch and Chief Scientist Guillame Lample both attended École Polytechnique, while CTO Timothee Lacroix attended École Normale Superiore. Mensch also did his PhD at Université Paris-Saclay.

When it comes to hiring, Mistral predictably therefore seems to prefer École Polytechnique students. AI scientist Romain Sauvestre, whom Mistral hired from Meta in May, studied applied mathematics at Polytechnique. Multiple research scientist interns have joined from Polytechnique this year.

Mistral seems focused on building multilingual LLMs. Its open-source model Mixtral 8x7B, for example, "handles English French, Italian German and Spanish" and can also be used for code generation. Perhaps it's not just the French banks who'll want to get involved.

Mensch spoke to John Collison, founder of payments fintech Stripe, last October, praising the French education system as a means of producing AI talent. He said French schools "promote mathematics and computer science quite a lot," those being the two main skills required for success in AI. Mensch also said that establishing a prominent European AI firm with a focus on open-source is important, as the growing prominence of US firms threatens to create an oligopoly in the AI sector.

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AUTHORAlex McMurray Reporter

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