China’s Alibaba and Tencent Compete for the Next AI Unicorn

China's Alibaba and Tencent Compete for the Next AI Unicorn
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UBTECH Robotics, a Shenzhen-based company known for designing and making humanoid robots that interact with humans, recently revealed details regarding its Series C round of funding. According to the company, it received a staggering $820 million in financing in the exercise that was led by Tencent.

The round of finding propelled the valuation of UBTECH Robotics to nearly $5 billion. This figure outdid SenseTime’s $3 billion valuation, which it reached after raising $600 million from Alibaba Group and other investors in April. SenseTime is an artificial intelligence startup that focuses on developing facial recognition systems.

The recent round of funding led by Tencent accentuates the increasing rate at which China’s leading technology companies are putting a lot of their money into artificial intelligence. Companies in question such as Tencent and Alibaba appear to be in a stiff competition to take over the artificial intelligence space in line with China’s plans to dominate the field by 2030.

China, a country with the second-largest economy in the world, revealed its plans to the world last year. During the announcement, she named companies like Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (collectively known as BAT) as well as iFlyTek, a voice intelligence specialist, as the first group of technology companies to spearhead the creation of the next generation of artificial intelligence technologies.

Artificial intelligence encompasses the field of advanced computing that has the capability to execute tasks, which usually require human intelligence. Some of these include translation between languages, decision-making, speech recognition, and visual perception. Some of the notable displays of artificial intelligence capability include AlphaGo, which is known for being the first computer program to beat a Go world champion. What’s more, a deep neural network model created by Alibaba, which is the parent company of the South China Morning Post, recently amazed many by scoring higher than human beings in a test involving reading a comprehension.

China knows too well that attaining its goal will require an artificial intelligence (AI) savvy workforce. As such, the country recently rolled out an artificial intelligence-based curriculum for all high school students in an attempt to supplement its blueprint to build an AI industry. This endeavor has captured the attention of several governments including the United States government.

According to some reports, the US government may begin to assess all informal collaborations between Chinese and American companies, especially in the artificial intelligence filed. This move by the US could be triggered by concerns regarding the stealing of intellectual property and even transfer of technology to China.

A report filed by sohu.com revealed that Tencent committed approximately $120 million to UBTECH Robotics in the recently completed round of funding. Aside from the technology giant, other companies such as Haier Group (home appliance giant) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China also participated in the exercise.

The round of financing shows the willingness of companies to invest in AI companies and startups. To put this matter into perspective, UBTECH Robotics would have an equivalent value as New York-based Foot Locker Inc., if it was registered as a publicly traded company.

Source SCMP

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