SenseTime, the Chinese titan of facial recognition technology, recently closed a series-C funding round that made them the most valuable AI company in the world. Sources told Reuters the company was now worth as much as $4.5 billion.
The round was notable not just for the $600 million raised (which the company claimed was a world record for an AI firm), but for the big names who gave financial backing. E-commerce behemoth, Alibaba, reportedly contributed $227 million, while another Chinese e-commerce company, Suning.com, and Singapore’s state-owned investment company, Temasek Holdings, also made significant contributions.
SenseTime primarily develops surveillance software based in AI. They became profitable in 2017, just three years after their founding, and have quickly found practical applications for their technology with the Chinese government. The company’s image analysis component was capable even in 2016 of identifying faces and cars from a football field away, then accurately matching them to a national database. SenseTime now processes data from China’s 170 million CCTV cameras, as well as smart glasses worn by on-duty police officers.
But government entities are far from the only parties seeking to capitalize on AI technology. As indicated by the most recent funding round, companies are firm believers in AI’s potential for a variety of applications. The investment was a logical one to Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsia. "We are especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing," he said. "Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI, and we are committed to further investment." Global chipmaking giant Qualcomm also joined SenseTime’s series-C round, albeit more quietly, as part of a series of investments in nine China-based companies. Like Alibaba, they championed SenseTime’s capacity for innovation, as well as their ability to “help grow [an] entire industry.”
SenseTime’s success bodes well for China’s stated goal of becoming a worldwide AI leader by 2030 – which would mean spearheading a potentially $150 billion-a-year industry. SenseTime will use the series-C round to expand their overseas footprint and develop new, effective industrial applications for AI to expand their existing 400-plus customer base in fintech, automotive, mobile phones, city development, and more. Finding additional, consumer-focused uses for their technology seems inevitable as SenseTime continues their path towards global AI dominance.
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