AI, the Chinese threat to the Silicon Valley leadership

20 Apr 2018

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is one of the technological frontiers on which international IT companies have invested the most. In the last few days, the news of a young Chinese company operating in this field, Sense Time, receiving a 600 million dollars investment caused a big stir.

In China, the economic effort put on AI, through public and private funding, is probably one of the strongest in the world; referring to the Sense Time project, the new surveillance software for the Chinese police that the company designed has been largely financed by a group of investors, Suning Commerce Group and Alibaba group by using public resources.

The growing relevance of China in the AI field is progressively destabilizing the Californian leadership (e.g. Microsoft, IBM e Google); the perfect example is the interest in Artificial Intelligence shown by Tencent (the 5th most important internet company worldwide, following Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon). In fact, last December, the company has expressed its will to open its own AI research lab in the Seattle area, exactly where its competitors are settled. 

And there is nothing surprising about that: at the “Association for the Advancement of AI” annual event, the number of case studies China has presented was higher than the American one (1242 vs 934) and China itself was second in the admissions with only 3 case studies less than USA. In this context, the Chinese government has planned to build a massive hub of 13,8 billion Yuan (2,1 billion dollars) in Mentougou, in Beijing’s western outskirts within 5 years; it will cover a 55-hectare area and it will host about 400 firms that will generate an annual value of production of 50 billion Yuan (7,6 billion dollars).

Even though Sense Time has started their activity only a few years ago (2014), it has already become the biggest Chinese producer of platforms and AI algorithms; its activities are focused on the development of advanced facial recognition programs and neural networks.

In just a few years, the company has distinguished itself for some strategic, domestic and international partnerships; it is working with Honda on a project about autonomous vehicles, it has been working on smartphones and other devices’ intelligence with Qualcomm and, it has contributed to develop the “Store of Future”, focused on facial recognition for the check-out and for big data management with Suning, the biggest Chinese retailer of electronic devices.

Besides the commercial uses, Sense Time will meet one of the most concerning need of the nation: automatic surveillance. A perfect example is the software created for the authorities of Guangzhou – one of the largest metropolis in the country with 25 million inhabitants. The software was used to manage the crime scenes’ documentation, surveillance footages and criminal database.

According to market analysts, today the value of Sense Time is over 4,5 billion dollars.