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Thu 5 Sep 2019 10:10 AM

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CEO of leading AI startup SenseTime says valuation has passed $7.5bn

Chinese start-up has been hosting regular roadshows around the world to educate investors on a business that now runs the gamut from facial recognition to robot delivery

CEO of leading AI startup SenseTime says valuation has passed $7.5bn

SenseTime Group’s valuation surpassed $7.5 billion this year after securing investment from backers like SoftBank Group Corp., yet the world’s largest AI start-up said it’s in no hurry to go public.

The Chinese start-up has been hosting regular roadshows around the world to educate investors on a business that now runs the gamut from facial recognition to robot delivery, Chief Executive Officer Xu Li told Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think conference in Singapore.

It’s using the funds raised to drive forays into areas such as semiconductors, spending the past two years developing an artificial intelligence training chip that Xu said may complement industry-leading products from Nvidia Corp.

Backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, SenseTime is the largest of a clutch of Chinese artificial intelligence behemoths that may be in Washington’s cross-hairs. The US fears their close relationship with Beijing, but Xu said SenseTime doesn’t do business directly with the government, doesn’t own nor access customers’ data, and that collaboration with the public sector is focused mainly on developing a code of AI ethics.

“Being a leading company, we should have the responsibility to collaborate with the government and regulator to come up with regulations,” Xu told the conference. He emphasized that SenseTime will never try to access customer information, which belongs to the client.

Chinese AI has raised hackles in Washington like almost no other segment of the country’s vast corporate machine, in part because of the welter of headlines proclaiming how it may soon surpass the US.

Broadly defined as anything from autonomous driving and robot waiters to facial recognition systems, names like Megvii Technology Ltd. and SenseTime are showing the way for the nascent industry - but some could become potential targets for an America-first administration.

SenseTime’s stupendous growth helps underscores the remarkable rise of Chinese technology - the company was most recently valued at $4.5 billion, according to CB Insights. Li said the start-up’s revenue is still growing at triple-digit percentages, though it remains cash-flow-negative because of the need to invest in new areas such as AI chipmaking. Its silicon is mainly developed in-house but it’s also investing in start-ups involved in chip development, Xu said.

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