This Is Now One of the Most Valuable AI Startups in the World, Thanks to Alibaba

Alibaba continues to flex its tech muscle — this time making a major investment that expands its reach into artificial intelligence.

The e-commerce behemoth led a whopping $600 million Series C funding round in SenseTime, a Hong Kong-based startup that equips Chinese businesses and governments with facial recognition software, which the company said marks the largest venture capital investment in China’s AI sector. Last July, SenseTime also announced that it set a record after securing $410 million in a Series B funding round.

“SenseTime has established an AI ecosystem anchored with robust research, deep industry collaboration and diverse partnerships,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO, Li Xu. “Our Round C funding will maximize these advantages by accelerating the development of a global footprint with a larger ecosystem incorporating both domestic and overseas partners. The funding will also help us widen the scope for more industrial application of AI, thus increasing the value of SenseTime’s global ecosystem.”

The massive capital injection sends a message that the Chinese multinational conglomerate, which dominates the country’s online shopping market, continues to see AI’s value in retail advancements. It’s also not the first time Alibaba has invested in an AI developer; through affiliate Ant Financial, the online retail giant last year also financially backed China-based Megvii, which also specializes in facial recognition 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, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group. “Our strategic partnership with SenseTime will spark more innovation and create value for society.”

Among its many innovative features, AI can help deliver better, more personalized customer experiences by tracking customers’ spending behaviors and offering them customized promotions and services based on those shopping patterns. With the added help of facial recognition, the technology ultimately has the potential to transform retail in the digital generation.

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