Over the last year or so, Hugging Face has emerged as a sort of GitHub for AI models — everyone from large companies to individual users upload their AI models on its Model Hub, from where other users can use and access them. It’s pretty pretty serious business, hosting and deploying AI models, but the company is named after a happy-looking emoji. It’s led many to wonder — what’s the story behind Hugging Face’s strange name choice?
The Story Behind Hugging Face’s name
Hugging Face’s unusual name comes from the company’s history. Before it became the default place to host AI models, Hugging Face was a chatbot company, which was looking to use AI to build a digital companion for young users. “The New York-based startup is creating a fun and emotional bot. Hugging Face will generate a digital friend so you can text back and forth and trade selfies,” Techcrunch had reported in a March 2017 profile of Hugging Face.
“There are many people working on artificial intelligence for productivity or utility applications,” co-founder and CEO Clément Delangue had said. “We’re building an AI so that you’re having fun talking with it. When you’re chatting with it, you’re going to laugh and smile — it’s going to be entertaining,” he had added.
The company was then named after the Hugging Face emoji (🤗), which seemed like an appropriate name for its use-case. Hugging Face met with some success too — by March 2017, Hugging Face had raised $1.2 million from investors including Betaworks, SV Angel and NBA star Kevin Durant and others.
But not long after, Hugging Face open-sourced the tech behind its chatbot, and pivoted to become an AI platform. Hugging Face became a repository for storing and hosting Machine Learning models. It also developed the popular Transformer library, which enabled users everywhere to use Transformers to build their own models and applications.
Today Hugging Face is the world’s biggest platform for hosting and loading Machine Learning models. Interestingly, it still holds on to the name it had been christened with when it was a AI chatbot for young people, and under this name creates AI courses, AI books and a platform for hosting some of the world’s best AI models. Hugging Face has done pretty well for itself — it’s now worth $2 billion, and is a household name in AI circles. So perhaps being named Hugging Face is working out for it after all.