The largest algorithm provider?

April 11, 2019
Established in 2014 and now valued at $4.5 billion, Beijing-based SenseTime is often referred to as the world’s largest AI startup.

This is an extract from “The ecosystem“, the first report of the four-part series, “Asia’s AI agenda”, by MIT Technology Review Insights.

SenseTime is attempting to address China’s relative lack of collaboration by building ecosystem elements into its business model. Established in 2014 and now valued at $4.5 billion, Beijing-based SenseTime is often referred to as the world’s largest AI startup. It’s more of an ‘AI foundry,’ according to co-founder Wang Xiaogang, currently with a team of over 600 AI researchers, including 150 PhDs.

Somewhat unique to AI startups (and particularly application-focused Chinese firms) SenseTime applies AI to multiple domains, including autonomous driving, mobile internet, intelligent mobile phones, smart cities, and medical imaging. With its own deep learning framework, supercomputing centers, and specialism in a range of computer vision disciplines, the company supports two development ‘chains’. The first is creating automated industrial applications to service complex, multi-player ecosystems, and the second is operating as a development hub, allowing other AI players to build their own domain-specific applications using SenseTime’s framework.

While application-level progress is catalyzing the commercial aspects of China’s AI ecosystem, “China’s lack of platforms for deeper research is becoming a development challenge,” says Wang, referring to the lack of foundational research and supporting infrastructure, such as supercomputer clusters, which he believes will set China at a disadvantage to competition, particularly from the United States. This makes SenseTime’s ‘two chain’ approach uniquely useful since “it helps developers very quickly to get AI solutions. A deep learning framework provides a large volume of AI algorithms and models to quickly design a solution and to solve a particular domain problem—particularly as there is a very limited talent pool in China.”

“China’s lack of platforms for deeper research is becoming a development challenge.”

Wang Xiaogang, Co-founder, SenseTime

In February 2018 SenseTime announced that it would be the first company to participate in the MIT Intelligence Quest, an initiative to leverage the Institute’s strengths in brain and cognitive science and computer science to advance research into human and machine intelligence. It will apply its discoveries to diverse fields—from materials design to finance to early disease diagnosis— while considering deeply the economic, cultural, and ethical implications of AI.