Chinese AI startup SenseTime raises $600m from Alibaba-led consortium at record US$3b valuation

SenseTime Group Ltd has raised US$600 million from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and other investors at a valuation of more than US$3 billion, becoming the world’s most valuable artificial intelligence (AI) startup.

Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings and Chinese retailer Suning Commerce Group also participated in the round, SenseTime said in a news release. SenseTime didn’t outline individual investments, but Alibaba was said to have sought the biggest stake in the three-year-old startup. Previous investors include chipmaker Qualcomm.

SenseTime, which is incorporated in Hong Kong but does the bulk of its business in mainland China, uses AI to develop technology that analyze faces and images on an enormous scale. In December, it partnered with Honda Motor in developing autonomous driving technology.

 “Our business at Alibaba is already seeing tangible benefits from our investments in AI and we are committed to further investment,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman.

The latest financing will bankroll investments in parallel fields such as autonomous driving and augmented reality, cover the growing cost of AI talent and shore up its computing power. It’s developing a service code-named “Viper” to parse data from thousands of live camera feeds – a platform it hopes will prove invaluable in mass surveillance. And it’s already in talks to raise another round of funds and targeting a valuation of more than US$4.5 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

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