SenseTime Seeks to Shed Surveillance Rep with MIT Alliance

A joint funding program between SenseTime and MIT could deliver significant advancements in artificial intelligence technology.

The MIT-SenseTime Alliance on Artificial Intelligence has announced funding for 27 projects covering a range of areas. One, for example, is a collaboration between academics from MIT’s Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, its Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and its Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, aimed at exploring how linguistic theory can be applied to machine learning algorithms for speech recognition. Another project, meanwhile, will see electrical, nuclear, and materials engineering academics working on “an all-solid device for low-power, fast, brain-like computing”, according to a statement from SenseTime.

The organizations haven’t indicated the precise amount of their funding, but the scale of their project, which encompasses all five of MIT’s departmental schools, points to a sizeable sum. It’s also worth noting that SenseTime claimed to have become the world’s most valuable AI company with the close of a series-C funding round earlier this year, with some estimating that it’s valued at around $4.5 billion.

In working with MIT, the company appears to be demonstrating its commitment to AI beyond the field of surveillance, which has helped to propel its ascent in a Chinese market driven by the government sector’s strong appetite for biometric security solutions. SenseTime co-founder Xu Bing asserted at a TechCrunch conference this summer that the company would branch into autonomous driving and augmented reality; while another co-founder, Wang Xiaogang, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the company is accelerating its efforts to target the automotive and medical sectors. “We are not a surveillance company,” he said, “We want to become an AI platform that empowers different businesses.”

Partnering with a well-respected American academic institution, and helping to fund a wide range of high-minded AI projects, is a good way to walk the walk, though given the contentious debate about face-scanning surveillance that kicked off in the US earlier this year, SenseTime’s ties to China’s surveillance state may yet prove to be a liability in Western markets.

Sources: MIT News, SenseTime, Nikkei Asian Review