Thanks to a wave of heavy funding from big names like trade giant Alibaba and chipmaker Qualcomm, a Chinese artificial intelligence startup called SenseTime Group is now the most valuable company of its kind in the world. The latest funding round for the startup brought in $600 million, putting SenseTime at the top of the worldwide AI startup value heap with a whopping $3 billion in total value across investments, equities, and other considerations. Other investors for this round included Temasek Holdings and Suning. While the firm did not say who contributed what amounts, it is rumored that Alibaba wanted to have the greatest stake in SenseTime. It hence stands to reason that Alibaba could have contributed more than other companies in the funding round, especially given its deep pockets.
SenseTime's specialty are AI systems that are able to analyze faces in videos and imagery in real time, a technology with numerous applications from simple and innocuous face detection in smartphone camera apps all the way to the sort of mass surveillance that the Chinese government has been embracing lately. Even on a worldwide scale, this sort of technology is being adopted by police forces and other government bodies not for mass surveillance, but for quick identification. Even the United States government could use quick and easy facial recognition technology in the Pentagon's ongoing Project Maven, though the protests of Googlers may prompt the company to pull out of that endeavor in the near future. This particular round of funding will mainly be focused on branching out into augmented reality and self-driving cars, as well as working on an upcoming service that the Chinese firm is calling "Viper," which is touted as being able to process vast amounts of video from numerous sources in real time, a project that could open up entirely new use cases for this sort of technology.
China hopes to lead the AI push worldwide by 2030 and having a company like SenseTime that combines an appealing and widely used product with big valuation is a significant step toward that goal. The company has the backing of Qualcomm and already has its technology in somewhere around 100 million Chinese smartphones and other devices worldwide.