According to the news report by Bloomberg, SoftBank Vision Fund is looking at investing nearly $1 billion in the world’s most valuable startup in the artificial intelligence segment, the Chinese company SenseTime Group Ltd.
According to internal sources that asked to remain anonymous since the deal is still private, Vision Fund, which was instituted by SoftBank Group Corp., and AI startup SenseTime are still in the process of finalizing the details of the deal. These sources said that the terms of the deal could still change. SenseTime has already announced 2 other funding rounds in 2018, since it raised more than $1.2 billion so far.
In fact, SoftBank is not the first major company to invest in this startup. Qualcomm Inc. invested in SenseTime last year, and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. as well as Temasek Holdings Pte. invested in this year’s April funding round which generated $600 million for SenseTime. The June funding round saw participation from Silver Lake, Fidelity International and Tiger Global Management, which raised an additional $620 million.
All these rounds of funding put together took the AI startup’s valuation to more than $4.5 billion.
SenseTime is a 4 year old company that develops systems that analyzes faces as well as images on a massive scale. This company contributes majorly to China’s huge surveillance system. Over and above identity verification and facial recognition, the company is also looking at entering the autonomous driving and augmented reality market segments too.
The AI startup is creating a service that is currently code-name Viper. This service will be able to parse data from live feeds from thousands of cameras. This, the company is expecting, will prove to be invaluable to mass surveillance.
Vision Fund is the world’s biggest investor in technology with a pool of almost $100 billion in funds, and SoftBank is targeting China as one of its main investment destinations in this segment.
SoftBank has already invested in sectors as varied as ride-hailing, semiconductors, e-commerce and even robotics. The Japanese company has already invested billions in China’s ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing. The investor has also bought a stake in the insurance company, ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co.
A part of the vision of the founder and Chief Executive Officer of SoftBank, Masayoshi Son has been to invest in a future that will be dominated by Artificial Intelligence as well as data. SoftBank has already spent $32 billion to buy the chip designer ARM Holdings Plc., a company that Son believes will be the backbone in the development of the AI industry.
If this deal materializes, then SoftBank will join the ranks of some of the biggest names in investment as well as technology.
Both SoftBank as well as SenseTime representatives declined to comment on this news.
This startup is just one of the many that are a part of China’s goal of making the Asian giant the world leader in Artificial Intelligence by 2020. According to a Development Plan issued by the State Council in China, AI will be a new driver of economic expansion in the country.
The cabinet announced last year that it expects the AI industry to generate over 400 billion Yuan (~$59 billion) by 2025. The Council stated that the main areas of focus would include Artificial Intelligence hardware as well as software, intelligent vehicles and robotics, virtual and augmented reality, etc.
This plan underlines China’s ambition to become a world power which will be backed by its research centers, technology companies and military – all of which are investing massively in artificial intelligence.
Across the globe, AI technology is expected to grow to a $15.7 trillion industry by 2030.