China’s SenseTime becomes world’s most valued AI startup

The ongoing AI race between the US and China has taken another turn with news that Chinese firm SenseTime has raised $600 million (£425 million) at a valuation of $3 billion (£2 billion) – making it the world’s most valued artificial intelligence startup.

China’s SenseTime becomes world’s most valued AI startup

The company, behind the facial-recognition systems used by Chinese authorities, revealed on Monday it closed its series-C funding round with a record-breaking amount of capital. SenseTime CEO Li Xu said in a statement that the company plans to use the funds to grow its presence overseas and “widen the scope for more industrial application of AI”.

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SenseTime hasn’t given specifics on who invested what, but Bloomberg is reporting that ecommerce titan Alibaba has sought the biggest stake in the company, with chipmaker Qualcomm, electronic retailer Co and Singaporean state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte among the other contributors.

Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, said: “SenseTime is doing pioneering work in artificial intelligence. We are especially impressed by their R&D capabilities in deep learning and visual computing. Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI and we are committed to further investment.”

SenseTime reportedly serves more than 400 customers, including Honda, Huawei and, Nvidia, although its most notable partner is, inarguably, the Chinese government. The firm’s AI systems are used by the state’s surveillance, processing vast amounts of data across the nation’s CCTV cameras, along with newer systems such as facial-recognition sunglasses. The company eventually aims for its developing ‘Viper’ system to juggle 100,000 live-streams simultaneously from ATMs, traffic cameras and a range of other scanners, automatically processing and tagging individuals.    

The company’s rapid growth emphasises China’s wider goal to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030. The competing development of AI technology between China, the US and the rest of the world, is raising questions about the ethical standpoint of future technologies.

“Clearly there is a global competition happening in terms of AI,” Antony Walker, deputy CEO of techUK, told Alphr at the end of last year. “China in particular is very focused. People are coming to realise that your fundamental values need to be embedded in your approach to AI, and doing this with the democratic tradition in Europe and the US is something we need to get right.”

Image: SenseTime

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