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SenseTime is interesting for many reasons:
- It's the world's largest AI unicorn, worth more than $7.5 billion.
- It has close ties with Beijing, despite the fact that it was founded in Hong Kong.
- It's now at the center of the US-China trade dispute, having just been blacklisted by the US government.
SenseTime specializes in facial- and pattern-recognition in images, video and audio, and works closely with the Chinese government, as well as MIT, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and others.
Founded in 2014, Sensetime first received attention for their DeepID algorithm, which was the first facial recognition tool that recognized faces more accurately than the human eye.
SenseTime went on to be named one of China's five "national champions" of AI in 2018, alongside Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, and iFlyTek, which earmarks it for special treatment, government contracts and potentially longterm investment.
Since its founding, SenseTime has raised over $2.6 billion from Alibaba, Qualcomm, Softbank and others.
More recently, the company has been accused of helping Chinese authorities monitor and track Uighur muslims. Critics, inlcuding the US government, say that SenseTime's software is used in China's mass surveillance program in areas like Xinjiang, where authorities deploy a vast surveillance network to monitor and track citizens.
In October, the US put SenseTime on its Entity List, which prevents it from buying or using any technology or product that contains US-made components.
While Sensetime denies that its technology is being used to discriminate against citizens, it does have verified clients among China's police departments, which use its technology in security cameras to find and track suspects. SenseTime previously owned a 51% stake in a join-venture in Xinjiang, but it sold its ownership in early 2019.