Artificial intelligence company Megvii has open-sourced its self-developed deep learning framework MegEngine, allowing developers around the world to use and improve on the platform.

Why it matters: China has set ambitious goals to be a leader in AI by 2030, but typically relies on US-origin open-source software from tech giants including Google and Facebook.

  • The vast majority of Chinese AI companies turn to these frameworks when unable to develop their own. Self-developed systems such as these require massive investments in time and resources.
  • Megvii is not the first Chinese company to open-source such a platform for wider use. Search giant Baidu released its self-developed deep learning framework PaddlePaddle in 2016.

Details: Megvii has published an early version of MegEngine, with a beta release expected in June and official launch in September, the company said on Wednesday.

  • The framework was initially developed in 2014 as part of Megvii’s Brain++ architecture, which the company uses to train computer vision algorithms—software that allows computers to interpret what they see.
  • MegEngine is especially effective when using large volumes of image or video data and can be used for complex tasks including image classification, object detection, and video analytics, according to Megvii.
  • Open-source deep-learning frameworks allow anyone with a bit of coding knowledge to train machine-learning models for a variety of purposes without having to build them from the ground up.
  • Open-source platforms benefit from people simultaneously using them, working to improve them, and reporting issues for other developers to address.

“We have used [MegEngine] to power our computational photography, facial recognition, and object recognition applications, but the developer community can use our foundational technology in innovative, real-world applications of AI that we have not yet imagined.”

Sun Jian, chief scientist and head of Megvii Research

Context: China’s AI sector took a hit in October when the US placed eight Chinese companies on the so-called Entity list, effectively banning them from doing business with American firms.

  • Megvii was included in the blacklisting. The company later said that its inclusion was due to a “misunderstanding of our company.” AI startup Sensetime, speech recognition firm iFlytek, and surveillance camera maker Hikvision, among others, were also included in the ban.
  • Megvii is currently pursuing a listing in Hong Kong, which could make it China’s first AI startup to go public.

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based technology reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.