Arthur Mensch, tall and lean with a flop of unkempt hair, arrived for a speech last month at a sprawling tech hub in Paris wearing jeans and carrying a bicycle helmet. He had an unassuming look for a person European officials are counting on to help propel the region into a high-stakes match with the United States and China over artificial intelligence.

Mr. Mensch, 31, is the chief executive and a founder of Mistral, considered by many to be one of the most promising challengers to OpenAI and Google. “You have become the poster child for A.I. in France,” Matt Clifford, a British investor, told him onstage.

A lot is riding on Mr. Mensch, whose company has shot into the spotlight just a year after he founded it in Paris with two college friends. As Europe scrambles to get a foothold in the A.I. revolution, the French government has singled out Mistral as its best hope to create a standard-bearer, and has lobbied European Union policymakers to help ensure the firm’s success.

Artificial intelligence will be built rapidly into the global economy in the coming decade, and policymakers and business leaders in Europe fear that growth and competitiveness will suffer if the region does not keep up. Behind their worries is a conviction that A.I. should not be dominated by tech giants, like Microsoft and Google, that might forge global standards at odds with the culture and politics of other countries. At stake is the bigger question of which artificial intelligence models will wind up influencing the world, and how they should be regulated.

“The issue with not having a European champion is that the road map gets set by the United States,” said Mr. Mensch, who just 18 months ago was working as an engineer at Google’s DeepMind lab in Paris, building A.I. models. His co-founders, Timothée Lacroix and Guillaume Lample, also in their 30s, held similar positions at Meta.

In an interview at Mistral’s spartan, whitewashed offices facing the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, Mr. Mensch said it “wasn’t safe to trust” U.S. tech giants to set ground rules for a powerful new technology that would affect millions of lives.

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