Chinese facial recognition provider SenseTime has become the world’s most funded AI startup following a $600 million funding round.
The latest round of funding was led by Alibaba Group Holdings to extend SenseTime’s existing one billion dollar valuation. Other investors which took part in the series-C fundraising include Temasek Holdings and Suning.Com Co Ltd.
While the company is yet to disclose its current valuation, Bloomberg reported it’s over $3 billion.
Joe Tsai, Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman, said in a statement: “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’s facial recognition and video analysis technology are also used by the Chinese government. While it’s the partnership with the latter which has undoubtedly led to such a high valuation, SenseTime reportedly serves over 400 customers — including high-profile brands such as Honda, Nvidia, and Huawei.
While some practices such as surveillance are controversial, other uses for SenseTime’s technology are more generally welcomed. The safety of driverless cars, for example, can be improved using the company’s video analysing technologies.
SenseTime is aiming for its ‘Viper’ system to be able to process and analyse over 100,000 simultaneous real-time streams from traffic cameras, ATMs, and more to automatically tag and keep track of individuals.
Some Western governments have displayed a wariness to foreign technologies which, in theory, could be used for surveillance by another state. SenseTime’s partner Huawei is a prime example of this with their ongoing struggles in the U.S. consumer smartphone and telecommunications markets.
With the rivalry between the U.S. and China to become the world leader in artificial intelligence, it would not be a surprise to see regulations limiting the use of foreign AI being discussed in the coming years.
What are your thoughts on SenseTime’s funding? Let us know in the comments.