As traditional economies gradually lose growth momentum, artificial intelligence (AI) is going to become the new engine to drive the next-wave growth of human civilization, said Xu Li, co-founder and CEO of Chinese AI unicorn SenseTime, at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference. Xu further expounded that AI will have a similar role the steam engine has played for the industrial revolution a hundred years ago.

Over the past ten years, a wealth of signs have shown that we are heading for a new revolutionary era. The production of CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor), a crucial electronic component for visual input, surged since 2014 thanks to the popularity of smartphones and internet-of-things (IoT) devices. The world’s top GPU maker Nvidia has recorded skyrocketing growth since 2017. The short video industry has boomed since late last year with the support of new technologies. The fast growth of these industries can find their roots in the wider application of AI technology, Xu argues.

“But before AI could turn to a powerful engine and change the world in a fundamental way, it has to realize large-scale application and integration with different industries,” said Xu.

Looking ahead, one of the changes AI will bring is turning everything into data.

SenseTime is more just than a face recognition company, says co-founder

“Most people consider Didi Chuxing a platform where cars are shared but it is more of a data sharing platform. From trip destinations to travel routes, users share their data when taking a ride on Didi. However, all the data companies like Didi have collected so far are structured with people submitting them in a uniformed format. AI-enabled visual recognition technology could help to transform unstructured information into data that can be processed by machines,” said Xu.

As the world’s highest-valued AI company with a valuation of over $4.5 billion, SenseTime has more than 700 customers across a range of verticals including fintech, smartphones, smart city development, and autonomous driving. Its clients include some of the world’s top companies such as car manufacturer Honda,  Nvidia, China’s bank card solution UnionPay, local Twitter-like platform Weibo, China Merchants Bank, and smartphone makers Huawei, Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi.

SenseTime is among a series of AI upstarts that have boomed in line with China’s “top-down” commitment to the emerging technology. Since July 2017, China has raised AI development to one of its priorities offering abundant support in funding and policy.

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.

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