Most Chinese consumers have likely never heard of SenseTime. But depending on where they live, it might be looking at their faces several times a day. If a person goes shopping at Suning, one of China's largest electronics retailers, it's possible that a camera in the store is tracking her behavior using SenseTime's software. Later, if she opens Rong360, a peer-to-peer lending app, she'll be asked to login using facial recognition--powered by SenseTime. She might send a video of herself to her friends on SNOW, a Snapchat-esque chat app, donning animated sunglasses built by SenseTime.
The entrance to SenseTime headquarters in Beijing shows who among the company's employees is inside the office and who is not (faded and tinted blue). The entrance to SenseTime headquarters in Beijing shows who among the company's employees is inside the office and who is not (faded and tinted blue). Dozens of cameras meet visitors to the Beijing headquarters of SenseTime, China's largest artificial intelligence company. One of them determines whether the door will open for you; another tracks your movements. The one that marketing assistant Katherine Xue is gazing into, in the company's showroom, broadcasts an image of my face with white lines emanating from my eyes, nose and corners of my mouth.
SenseTime, which specializes in software that can identify people's faces in surveillance videos, said Monday that it had secured $600 million in fresh funds and is already in talks with investors to raise more money. The second biggest AI startup is also Chinese: Shanghai-based Yitu Technology with a valuation of about $2.4 billion. Related: China's Didi said to be worth $56B after raising more cash SenseTime tapped big names for cash in its latest funding round, including China's leading e-commerce company, Alibaba (BABA). It had already announced an investment from US computer chip maker Qualcomm (QCOM) last year. The new funding will "help us widen the scope" for putting artificial intelligence to use in different industries, SenseTime CEO Li Xu said in a statement.
In just four years, SenseTime went from being an academic project to become the world's most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) company with a current valuation of $4.5 billion. Based in China, the company has a portfolio of 700 clients and partners, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Qualcomm, Honda, Alibaba, Weibo, and more. They use their proprietary artificial intelligence and machine vision technology to drive its success and "redefine human life as we know it." With the number of core technologies, products, and services SenseTime offers, it's hard to believe it's such a young company. Here are just a few ways SenseTime uses artificial intelligence to "power the future."