Facial recognition startup, SenseTime has raised $600 million in its latest funding round. The Chinese-based company says it is the largest AI funding round in history.
The massive effort was reportedly led by Alibaba. This is the third or Round C of funding for the company that claims to be China’s leading AI platform and algorithm supplier.
The company specializes in a range of fields related to AI including facial and image recognition, autonomous driving, medical imaging and deep-learning hardware optimization. Previous funding rounds attracted investors such as Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek and Chinese retailer Suning.
Alibaba will integrate AI into future business
Alibaba will potentially use the collaboration to help it roll out new products and services and transform business methods. Alibaba’s vice chairman Joe Tsai responded to the funding round saying:
“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. Our strategic partnership with SenseTime will spark more innovation and create value for society.”
The latest round of funding brings SenseTime's overall value to $3 billion. SenseTime has business partnerships with both Chinese and international companies. Notably, they work with Qualcomm, to increase the intelligence of smartphones and with Honda to provide autonomous driving technologies.
They have also partnered with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the universities Quest project. AI is a massive industry in China and one that the country is keen to expand as it battles with Silicon Valley to be at the leading edge of these emerging technologies.
China determined to become AI leaders
"China has lagged behind the U.S. in cutting-edge hardware design," says Paul Triolo, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, D.C. "But it wants to win the AI chip race."
The country is investing massively in the entire field of AI, from chips to algorithms and all with government support. Last year the State Council of China issued a policy calling for the country to become "the world's primary AI innovation center" by 2030. It forecast by this time, China’s AI industry could be worth around $150 billion.
"China is investing heavily in all aspects of information technology, from quantum computing to chip design", says Raj Reddy, an AI pioneer at Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "AI stands on top of all these things."
There seems to be no stopping China from reaching their ambitious goal. A $2.1 billion AI technology park is set to be built in Beijing's western suburbs and other heavily backed projects are reportedly in the pipeline.
In the race between the U.S. and China to be the leaders in a new AI era, China is certainly winning on numbers. The U.S. government’s total spend on unclassified AI programs in 2016 was just $1.2 billion according to U.S. research company In-Q-Tel.