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Billion dollar AI company, SenseTime, is creeping heavy on people in China

“The eye in the sky is watching us all…” A very daunting quote from character Sam Rothstein in Martin Scorcese’s film Casino that holds even more weight now than it did back then.

Why? Surveillance has taken on a new form in 2018. It is adapting to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. Ahead of the curve stands Chinese startup SenseTime, a company that develops facial and image recognition software.

SenseTime was conceptualized in October 2014 by Prof. Tang Xiaoou of the Chinese University of Hong Kong along with 11 other students studying computer vision and deep learning.

After only a one year of extensive research, the academic project turned into a business. By 2016 SenseTime started launching an array of products. Now in 2018, the company’s valuation stands at $4.5 billion. Shout outs to Alibaba for investing a nice $600 million worth of funding into the startup AI company.

Just to put this in perspective, SenseTime is the world’s most valuable AI startup. Barely any American AI companies have even come close to a billion dollars in valuations. SenseTime CEO, Xu Li, told Quartz in an interview,

“China is really moving ahead, especially in video and image understanding, because we have the real world problems, we have the real world data, and we also have a stronger talent pool dedicated to those kinds of things.”

SenseTime really does have real-world data as their list of 400 clients includes several Chinese police bureaus which use the ingenious software to identify live faces, crowd movement, car license plate numbers, and vehicle types.

So suspect!

Other clients include one of China’s largest social media sites, Weibo, which uses the software to improve photo-sorting and image editing around a face and smartphone manufacturer, Vivo, which uses SenseTime to improve camera apps.

What makes the company so valuable is its data. According to SenseTime’s CEO, Li Xu, the Chinese government helped grow its vast training database to 2 billion images. Xu explained to Quartz,

“The government has the largest dataset. If you have access to the government data, you have all the data from all Chinese people, all the data from BAT [Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, China’s three main internet giants]… you have almost all the data in the world…”

Sheesh, that’s some scary stuff. One question that comes to mind, ‘Should we be worried about SenseTime’s technology in the Western World?’ Most definitely!

SenseTime has already dapped it up with MIT joining the university’s Intelligence Quest which is an initiative focused on bringing together top AI experts in various fields. That’s not all. Back in 2015, the Chinese startup also washed Google and other high profile tech companies in the ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition Challenge (ILSVRC).

Still, SenseTime will have a lot of convincing to do as surveillance regulations differ in the Western World compared to those in China.

For now, prepare yourself to be crept on!

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