SenseTime, a Chinese facial-recognition technology company, just pulled a piping-hot $600m of funding out of the oven — making the company nearly twice as valuable as the 2nd-hottest AI startup, Shanghai-based Yitu.
The Chinese State Council’s 3-step strategic plan for AI-domination by 2030 has positioned SenseTime for lucrative government contracts and investment from Chinese heavyweights like Alibaba.
So why does everyone want a slice?
Fueled by global interest in autonomous vehicles and augmented reality, forecasts expect AI to add $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.
But demand is highest in China, where the government’s embrace of AI has prompted heavy investment — 48% of global investment went to Chinese startups compared to the 36% going to American companies.
Since it was founded in 2015, SenseTime has published more papers in top AI journals than Facebook or Google.
But it’s not all rainbows and Animojis out there
The driving force behind China’s AI goals is its national surveillance network that requires massive data-processing horsepower. Sensetime’s facial recognition technology powers the government’s network of 170m public surveillance camera and police officers’ glasses.
SenseTime believes the government only uses its technology to catch criminals, but critics like Human Rights Watch condemn China’s so-called “Police Cloud” for casting a long shadow over free speech and privacy rights — and even limiting the mobility of certain groups.
For its part, China’s State Council has acknowledged the need to “attach great importance to the possible risk” of AI development.