Artificial intelligence is being used for a dizzying variety of tasks, but one of the most successful is also one of the most terrifying: automatic surveillance. One example is the Chinese startup SenseTime, which manufactures surveillance software with artificial intelligence for the country's police, and this week received a new round of financing worth 600 million dollars. According to reports, this financing, led by the retail giant Alibaba, gives SenseTime a total valuation of more than 4,500 million dollars, which makes it the most valuable IA startup in the world, according to the analysis firm CB Insights.
This news is important for a number of reasons. First, it shows how China continues to invest money in artificial intelligence, both through government financing and private investment. Many observe the competition between China and the United States to develop cutting-edge AI with great interest, and see investment as an important measure of progress. China has overtaken the US UU In this sense, although experts warn quickly that it is only a measure of success.
Second, the investment shows that image analysis is one of the most lucrative commercial applications for AI. SenseTime became profitable in 2017 and states that it has more than 400 clients and partners. Sells its artificial intelligence services to improve the camera applications of smart phone manufacturers such as OPPO and Vivo; to offer "embellishment" effects and AR filters on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo; and to provide identity verification for national financial and retail applications such as Huanbei and Rong360.
In particular, SenseTime also equips Chinese police forces with facial recognition and tracking services. For example, the company says that the software it provides for the security office in Guangzhou (one of the three largest cities in China with a metropolitan population of around 25 million) is used to attach surveillance images of crime scenes to photos of a criminal database, and identified more than 2,000 suspects and resolved "almost 100 cases".
Justin Niu, partner of IDG, an early investor in SenseTime, told the Financial Times in January: "SenseTime and its competitors can grow so fast compared to other places in the world because video surveillance is a big business in China, the government controls the budget and there's a big budget so they can manage society. " According to Bloomberg, SenseTime is developing software whose code name is Viper that will "analyze data from thousands of live camera feeds" and will be used by the police to "track" everything from vices and accidents to suspects in blacklists. "
Advocates of privacy and freedom of expression say China is already using similar technology to track down and harass political opponents, and warn that AI-enhanced surveillance could mean the death of privacy. SenseTime co-founder Xu Li told Bloomberg that the company's technology "will not affect privacy because only authorized people can access it."
But China is not the only country interested in this use of artificial intelligence, and companies around the world are working on similar systems. SenseTime is a leader in this field, but its latest round of funding suggests that this type of real-time video analysis will only be generalized.