Alibaba-backed facial recognition startup Megvii raises $750 million

One in every of China’s most formidable synthetic intelligence startups, Megvii, extra generally recognized for its facial recognition model Face++, introduced Wednesday that it has raised $750 million in a Sequence D funding spherical.

Based by three graduates from the celebrated Tsinghua College in China, the eight-year-old firm focuses on making use of its pc imaginative and prescient options to a variety of use instances resembling public safety and cell cost. It competes with its fast-growing Chinese language friends, together with the world’s most respected AI startup, SenseTime — additionally funded by Alibaba — and Sequoia-backed Yitu.

Bloomberg reported in January that Megvii was mulling to boost as much as $1 billion by means of an preliminary public providing in Hong Kong. The brand new capital injection lifts the corporate’s valuation to simply north of $four billion because it gears up for its IPO later this yr, sources informed Reuters.

China is on observe to overhaul the USA in AI on numerous fronts. Buoyed by a handful of mega-rounds, Chinese language AI startups accounted for 48 % of all AI fundings in 2017, surpassing these within the U.S. for the primary time, exhibits information collected by CB Insights. An evaluation launched in March by the Allen Institute for Synthetic Intelligence discovered that China is quickly closing in on the U.S. by the quantity of AI analysis papers revealed and the affect thereof.

A essential caveat to China’s flourishing AI panorama is, as The New York Instances and different publications have identified, the federal government’s use of the expertise. Whereas facial recognition has helped the police hint lacking youngsters and seize suspects, there have been considerations round its use as a surveillance instrument.

Megvii’s new funding spherical arrives simply days after a Human Rights Watch report listed it as a expertise supplier to the Built-in Joint Operations Platform, a police app allegedly used to gather detailed information from a largely Muslim minority group in China’s far west province of Xinjiang. Megvii denied any hyperlinks to the IJOP database per a Bloomberg report.

Kai-Fu Lee, a world-renowned AI knowledgeable and investor who was Google’s former China head, warned that any nation on the earth has the capability to abuse AI, including that China additionally makes use of the expertise to rework retail, training and concrete site visitors amongst different sectors.

Megvii has attracted a rank of big-name buyers in and outdoors China thus far. Members in its Sequence D embody Financial institution of China Group Funding Restricted, the central financial institution’s wholly owned subsidiary targeted on investments, and ICBC Asset Administration (World), the offshore funding subsidiary of the Industrial and Industrial Financial institution of China.

International backers within the spherical embody an entirely owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Funding Authority, one of many world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, and Australian funding financial institution Macquarie Group.

Megvii says its recent proceeds will go towards the commercialization of its AI companies, recruitment and world enlargement.

China has been exporting its superior AI applied sciences to nations all over the world. Megvii, based on a report by the South China Morning Put up from final June, was in talks to carry its software program to Thailand and Malaysia. Final yr, Yitu opened its first abroad workplace in Singapore to deploy its intelligence options to companions in Southeast Asia. Similarly, SenseTime landed in Japan by opening an autonomous driving take a look at park this January.

“Megvii is a worldwide AI expertise chief and innovator with cutting-edge applied sciences, a scalable enterprise mannequin and a confirmed observe report of monetization,” learn a press release from Andrew Downe, Asia regional head of commodities and world markets at Macquarie Group. “We consider the commercialization of synthetic intelligence is a long-term focus and is of nice significance.”

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