Top 10 Chinese AI Companies

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Chinese girl with robot
Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

Today, artificial intelligence is a multi-billion dollar industry that has enticed investors, entrepreneurs, and companies all over the world. This technological leviathan has also attracted many government leaders who either view it as a way to improve their countries or to control their people.

China is one of the leaders in artificial intelligence and is aiming to spearhead this technology by the year 2030. Some of the biggest—and wealthiest— AI corporations are in the People’s Republic of China. Their secret technology is staying with them, but their products are going out—at an ever-increasing seed.

 

(See details below)

NAME
YEAR
FOUNDERS
NET WORTH
TYPE
PRODUCTS
SenseTime
2014
Tang Xiao’ou, Xu Li
$7.7 Billion
Image Recognition
Deep I.D.
CloudWalk
2015
Zhou Xi
$3.1 Billion
Image Recognition
FaceScan Terminal
Megvii
2011
Yin Qi, Tang Wenbin, Yang Mu
$4 Billion
Image Recognition
Face++  Brain++
Hikvision
2001
Gong Hongjia  (co-owner)
$7 Billion
Video  Surveillance
AcuSense,  ColorVu
Yitu
2012
Leo Zhu,  Lin Chexi
$2.2 Billion
Image  Recognition
DragonFLy Eye
iFlytek
1999
Liu Qingfen
$9 Billion
Voice Recognition
Xiao Yi  translator
Meiya
1999
Teng Da
$2 Billion
Digital Forensics
Magicube, Octopus
Bytedance
2012
Zhang Yiming, Liang Rubo
$178-250 Billion
Social Media
Toutiao, TikTok
Dahua
2001
Fu Liquan
$4 Billion
Video  Surveillance
SME Back to Class
Tencent
1998
Pony Ma,  Tony Zhang
$50 Billion
Social Media
QQ, WeChat

 

 

Sensetime-chinese-ai

SenseTime / $7.7 billion

About: SenseTime was co-founded in 2014 by Tang Xiao’ou and Xu Li. Tang is a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Xu Li, the current CEO, is a computer scientist that studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He has published more than 50 international papers.

Summary: SenseTime develops AI technology for facial, image, and optical character recognition, as well as autonomous driving and medical analysis, among other things.

Their industries are Smart Business, Smart City, Smart Life, and Smart Auto. SenseTime is responsible for developing DeepID, the first computer algorithm to surpass human eye accuracy. The technology was applied to many industry sectors, including smartphones, cities, education, retail, and real estate.

Their main products include the SensePass, a face-recognition I.D. verification system for door and gateway access, the SensePhoto image processor for smartphones, and the SenseAuto RoboX or Robobus, an autonomous driving bus for multiple solutions.

Countries: It is established in Hong Kong with many offices across Asia and the United States. The company currently has more than 700 global customers and partners, which include Alibaba, UnionPay, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, and iFLYTEK, another AI company.

Highlights: 

  •  SenseTime, together with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has published and presented more than 400 papers in the best academic journals and conferences. It is only surpassed by Microsoft.
  • SenseTime is one of the founding members of the Global Artificial Intelligence Academic Alliance (GAIAA), along with MIT, the University of Sidney, and other Chinese Universities.

Criticism: In 2017 SenseTime set up a ‘smart policing’ company with Leon, a major supplier of data analysis and surveillance technology in Xinjiang. In 2019, under Trump’s administration, it was placed under the United States Bureau of Industry and Security’s Entity List for using its technology for human rights abuses on ethnic minorities and religious groups. That same year, It was reported by The New York Times that SenseTime’s facial recognition systems were used by the Chinese government. Sense Time later announced that it had quit the security venture.

 

Cloudwalk-chinese-ai

CloudWalk /  $ 3.1 billion

About: In 2011, Dr. Zhou Xi, a graduate of the University of Science and Technology of China, entered the Chinese Academy of Sciences Hundred Talents Program. He led a team to develop several intelligent image products and founded CloudWalk in 2015.

Summary: CloudWak is one of the “four dragons”, alongside SenseTime, Yitu, and Megvii. It’s also called a “state team” since many of its investors are owned by the state.

According to CloudWalk’s website, “Cloudwalk applies AI technology to facilitate the construction of digital infrastructure for AI governance, so as to assist the refined operation of the government, public security, hospitals, schools, parks, tourism, and cultural activities in urban areas”.

CloudWalk is the primary supplier of facial recognition technology to the Bank of China and Haitong Securities.

Two of its main products are the Face Scan Payment Terminal, the Face Scan Access Terminal. It also manufactures the Pangu cameras, surveillance monitoring systems, which can detect, track, capture, and recognize human faces.

Countries: It works mainly in China. It has taken part in the development of 5 platforms under the Ministry of Public Security and has assisted in solving more than 50,000 public security cases. It Offers services for 30 provincial administrative regions nationwide.

Highlights: According to The Atlantic, “In 2018, CloudWalk Technology, a Guangzhou-based start-up spun out of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, inked a deal with the Zimbabwean government to set up a surveillance network. Its terms require Harare to send images of its inhabitants…back to CloudWalk’s Chinese offices, allowing the company to fine-tune its software’s ability to recognize dark-skinned faces, which have previously proved tricky for its algorithms.”

Criticism: The United States Department of Commerce also added CloudWalk Technology to its Entity List for its role in aiding the Chinese government in the mass surveillance of the Uyghur population. CloudWalk Technology partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign to develop the surveillance technology. According to U.S officials, CloudWalk Technology was, “complicit in human rights violations and abuses committed in China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR)”.

Dr. Zhou Xi participated (as a representative of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) in the strategic pilot A class special “Xinjiang security control”.

 

Megvii/ $ 4 billion

About: Megvii Technology Limited, was founded in Beijing in 2011 by Yin Qi (CEO), Tang Wenbin, and Yang Mu, three Tsinghua University graduates. The three of them studied under the Chinese computer scientist and computational theorist Andrew Chi-Chih Yao.

In 2015, 2016, and 2017, Yin Qi was named in Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list of Chinese elites, and in January 2016, he was ranked No. 1 on Forbes Asia’s “30 under 30” Enterprise Technology entrepreneurs. In 2019, Yin Qi joined the Professional Committee for AI Ethics under the Chinese Association for Artificial Intelligence. In June 2018, MIT Technology Review’s included him in their global “Innovators under 35” list.

Summary: Based in Beijing, Megvii develops image recognition and deep-learning software for businesses and for the public sector. Megvii is one of the world’s largest providers of authentication software in the world. The company provides AI technologies to government agencies and enterprises including Alibaba, Lenovo, and Huawei.

Launched in 2012, Face++, was the first and only facial recognition platform in China. Along with Brain++ (2015), a deep-learning engine that helps train its algorithms, Face++ is the company’s core software product.

Some products that use this technology are The Rapid Deployment Kit, a portable portrait recognition, the Intelligent IP Camera (IPC), a surveillance camera with infrared light and portrait capture and face recognition,  Robotics and Intelligent equipment for logistics, and The Intelligent Identity Verification Device, a small portable computer powered by face recognition algorithms which can verify whether an ID cardholder is the same person as indicated on his or her ID card.

Countries:

Megvii serves over 3,000 customers and hundreds of thousands of developers worldwide and is the “world’s biggest provider of third-party authentication software”, with 339 corporate clients in 112 cities in China.

Highlights:

  • Beat Google, Facebook, and Microsoft in image recognition tests at the 2017 and 2018 International Conference on Computer Vision
  • Yin Qi has been a member of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum since March 2019.
  • MEGVII ranked No. 11 among MIT Technology Review’s 50 Smartest Companies 2017.

Criticism: The Chinese government employs Megvii software. In 2019, Megvii was sanctioned by the U.S. Government and placed on the United States Bureau of Industry and Security’s Entity List, due to the use of its technology for human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

 

Hikvision /  $ 7 billion (?)

About: Hikvision was founded in 2001 by Zhejiang HIK Information Technology Co., Ltd. with the company having a 51% stake and Gong Hongjia a 13.4% stake. Chen Zongnian is CEO and the Chairman and Communist Party Secretary of Hikvision

Summary: Hikvision is an IoT (Internet of Things) solution provider with the video surveillance market as its core competency. It is owned by China Electronics Technology HIK Group Co., Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of China Electronics Technology Group, (CETC), a state-run enterprise that is owned and supervised by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council.

In January 2021, the company won a US$33 million, 1,900-camera smart city project in Shanghe County, Shandong province, that includes cameras with facial recognition and license plate recognition technologies.

Countries: Hikvision has been listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange since 2010. The company provides surveillance products to more than “2,400 partners in 155 countries and regions”, and has its presence in 18 locations around the world.

Highlight: 

  • In October 2016, the company concluded a deal with Movidius, a California-based technology company.
  • Using data from bidding websites, the companies’ own disclosures, and Chinese trade publications, IPVM found 11 Hikvision and Dahua PPP (Public-Private Partnership) projects in Xinjiang [concentration camp] worth a total of 7+ billion yuan / over $1 billion USD.
  • Chen Zongnian, Hikvision’s CEO stated that “President XI’s visit and support is deeply appreciated by CETC group and Hikvision. As a state-owned company, we understand that reform and transformation cannot be accomplished in one day and should continue.” Chen continued by saying that “every party member must consciously accept the [Communist] party’s leadership, effectively strengthening the party’s leadership, strengthening the Party’s vitality, and complying with party discipline… All party members united as one, as a “personal dream.” [IPVM]

Criticism: In 2016, Hikvision was criticized by Alan West, since the company’s cameras were being used in government buildings in Great Britain, thus raising “ethical and security concerns”. In 2017, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency declared that seven series of Hikvision cameras were affected by an improper authentication vulnerability. In 2020 Hikvision was “blacklisted” by the United States Department of Defence for having links to the People’s Liberation Army. In March 2021, the Federal Communications Commission stated that Hikvision “poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security. RAI, the Italian public broadcaster, also stated that the Chinese surveillance cameras “opened communication channels with addresses registered in China” once connected to the internet.

In April 2021, following an amendment sponsored by Lara Walters, the European Parliament confirmed that it had removed Hikvision thermal cameras from its premises.

 

Yitu / $ 2.2 billion

About:  Yitu Technology was founded in 2012 by Leo Zhu (Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of California), a highly regarded AI scientist and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fellow, and Lin Chenxi, a former Alibaba Cloud expert.

Summary: Yitu is a pioneer of “artificial intelligence research and innovation. YITU Technology integrates state-of-the-art AI technology business applications to build a safer, faster, and healthier world.”

The company is financially backed by Sequoia China, Hillhouse Capital, Gaorong Capital, and ZhenFund, among others.

One of its flagship products is the Yitu Dragonfly Eye, a computer vision-powered system developed for public surveillance “which can be used for static and dynamic facial detection”.

They apply their technology to Smart Cities, Health, and Businesses. It was the “first AI company in China to provide intelligent operation and management technologies” and assisted Xiamen, Fuzhou, and Shanghai to build intelligent cities.

Their main health product is Care.ai, an Intelligent Integrated Solution for Child Growth and Development, and offer a Cardless ATM Withdrawal for businesses that have been deployed on over 12000 ATMs.

Countries: Yitu claims to have provided AI tech for more than 800 governments and companies in 30 Chinese provinces and regions and more than 10 countries and regions outside China.

Highlight:

Criticism: When Zhu and Chenxi launched YITU, the local police immediately began using YITU’s Dragonfly Eye system to analyze surveillance videos and identify people and cars.

In 2015, Suzhou local police captured a burglar in just ten minutes, using Yitu’s technique to pinpoint the targeted car among hundreds in a surveillance video. The case quickly sent a shockwave across the country.

 

iFlytek / $ 9 billion

About: It was founded in 1999 by Liu Qingfeng and other 18 college and graduate students after participating in a speech synthesis contest and obtaining the highest score of all speech synthesis solutions at the time. Liu currently serves as the Founder, Chairman, and President of the company.

SummaryTheir motto is “Create a better world with A.I.”, and is a partially state-owned Chinese information technology company. It creates voice recognition software and voice-based internet/mobile products covering education, communication, music, intelligent toys industries. China Mobile, a state-owned company, is its largest shareholder.

In 2002 iFlytek received the ‘National Key Software Enterprise’ award and was sponsored by the National Department of Science and Technology.

In 2007 their intelligent voice chips hit the market and in 2008 iFLYTEK was listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, the only voice technology company listed at that time. In 2010 iFLYTEK launched its Open Platform, the first open voice platform with voice recognition capability, reaching over 150 million users by 2012.

In 2014 іFlytek launched the groundbreaking HyperBrain Project and in 2016 it released the Xiao Yi Translator and iFLYREC Intelligent Conferencing System.

In 2018, iFlyTek was granted 276 million yuan ($39.4 million) in government funding, accounting for some 3 percent of revenue.

Countries: Works mainly in China but has also partnered with Intel.

Highlight:

  • iFlytek was chosen to be the exclusive translation and transcription service provider for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
  • It ranked the 6th smartest company by MIT Technology Review.

Criticism: IFlytek is one of the 27 companies accused by the U.S. government of human rights abuses and illegal surveillance.

 

Meiya Pico / $ 2 billion (?)

About: Teng Da, born in 1970, established Meiya Pico in 1999. Teng Da has been passionate about electronics since childhood.

Summary: Xiamen Meiya Pico Information has more than 1600 employees in 24 branches and is “The leader in digital forensics and cybersecurity in China”. It provides solutions and services for law enforcement and government organizations all over the world. (Digital forensics is the practice of identifying, extracting, and considering evidence from digital media such as computer hard drives, mobile phones, and medium storage cards).

According to their website “Meiya Pico is dedicated to digital forensics… including field investigation, evidence gathering, evidence cloning, data recovery, digital analysis, password recovery and more.

Meiya Pico was entitled “National Cyber Police Training Center” by the Ministry of Public Security and has “successfully organized thousands of training [exerices],” becoming the first CNAS certified non-public digital forensic institution in China. It has successfully finished nearly 600 digital forensics labs.

Countries: Meiya Pico owns more than 40% of the market in digital forensics and provides products to clients in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Italy, and France. Meiya Pico also provides overseas training, technical exchanges, and assistance to build the forensic lab in more than 50 countries, including Argentina, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Egypt, United Kingdom, Russia, Iran, India and Malaysia.

Highlight: Meiya Pico has provided security support for important events such as the Beijing Olympic Games, Guangzhou Asian Games, and Shanghai World Expo.

Criticism: The company was sanctioned by the United States government on 7th October 2019 for alleged involvement in Xinjiang re-education camps.

 

Bytedance / 178-250 billion

About: In 2009, Zhang Yiming, a software engineer and graduate from the Nankai University in Tianjin, and his schoolmate and friend Liang Rubo started 99fang.com, a real estate search engine. They founded ByteDance in 2012. In May 2021 Zhang Yimin stepped down as CEO of ByteDance and was succeeded by Liang Rubo.

SummaryByteDance is a Beijing-based company (legally domiciled in the Cayman Islands) that owns the news app service Toutiao and the video-sharing app TikTok.

In March 2012, ByteDance launched its first app, called Neihan Duanzi, “implied jokes”. The app allowed users to share jokes, memes, and funny videos and reached 200 million users at its peak. A few months later, in August 2012, ByteDance launched the first version of the news and content platform Toutiao, “Headlines”, their main product at the time. Toutiao hit 1 million daily active users four months after its launch.

Douyin, a video-sharing service, was launched in 2016 in China and within a few months, the app had 100 million users and one billion videos viewed every day.

In 2017, ByteDance released TikTok, the international version of Douyin. It is estimated that the app has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide.

In 2018, Neihan Duanzi was shot down by the Chinese government, alleging that the app hosted vulgar and improper content, “triggering strong sentiments of resentment among internet users.” Zhang Yiming, the co-founder of the app, sent a letter asserting that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values” and that it would “further deepen cooperation” with the authorities to promote their policies. It also announced that ByteDance would give preference to Chinese Communist Party members in the hiring process and that it would increase its censors from 6,000 to 10,000.

Countries: Between 2012 and 2013, Toutiao received funding from Susquehanna International Group (U.S.), Asia Investment, and Yuri Milner. In 2014, Sequoia Capital (U.S.) and Sina Weibo (China) also invested in the company. Today, ByteDance is financially backed by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (U.S.), SoftBank Group (Japan), Sequoia Capital (U.S.), General Atlantic (U.S.), and Hillhouse Capital Group (Asia).

Highlight

  • As of June 2021, ByteDance had 1.9 billion monthly active users across all of its content platforms.
  • As of March 2021, it was estimated to be valued at $250 billion in private trades.

Criticism: ByteDance has an internal CCP committee serving the party members among the employees, and has a strategic public relations partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. It has worked with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to censor and monitor content regarding the Xinjiang internment camps and other controversial topics. With its millions of followers, government officials in the U.S. are worried about Tik Tok’s privacy and its potential use for surveillance. “Here’s the problem with TikTok as it exists now. It is owned by a Chinese parent company that has direct ties to the Chinese Communist Party. And we also know that under Chinese law, TikTok, ByteDance, the parent, is required to share data with the Chinese Communist Party”, explains Josh Hawley.

 

DAHUA / $ 4 billion

About: Fu Liquan studied radio engineering at Zhejiang Shuren University and got an EMBA from Zhejiang University. He started out by setting up a factory for electrical equipment and founded Dahua Technology in 2001.

Summary: Zhejiang Dahua Technology is based in Hangzhou and is a partially state-owned publicly traded company. It mainly sells video surveillance products and services.

Dahua Technology is owned and controlled by Fu Liquan and his wife Chen Ailing, but The PRC has deep ties to it—as with most Chinese companies. Fu owns about 35% of shares, while Chen has 2.38% of shares. Zhu Jiangming is executive VP of Dahua and the second-largest stakeholder worth $430 million. Zhu is also the executive director of Leap Motor, a PRC electric car startup founded and run by Dahua executives.

Dahua Technology is also partially state-owned by Central Huijin Asset Management (a subsidiary of China Investment Corporation that reports to the State Council of the People’s Republic of China), and China Galaxy Securities.

One of its products is the SMB Back to Class Solution. “This solution offers temperature monitoring, non-contact access, built-in face mask detection, and social distancing reminder, which can help ensure a safe school campus environment during this special period.”

Countries: Dahua has more than 18,000 employees all over the world and its products and services are used in 180 countries and regions. It has 58 subsidiaries in Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania, and Africa.

Highlight: In 2017 some security researchers detected a vulnerability in the cameras, allowing unauthorized people to remotely download a device’s database of usernames and passwords and subsequently gain access to it. The data had been sent to China through the company’s firewall.

Criticism: Dahua has by far the largest documented presence of any surveillance provider in Xinjiang (concentration camps), having directly won almost $1 billion of surveillance projects.

The Federal Communications Commission stated that Dahua poses “an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security.”

 

Tencent / $ 50 billion

About: Tencent was founded in 1998 by Pony Ma, a graduate of Shenzhen University, his classmate Tony Zhang, Chen Yidan, Xu Chenye, and Zeng Liqing.

Summary: Tencent was founded in 1998 and is a multinational technology company that sells various internet services and products. Its artificial intelligence products focus mainly on entertainment.

Tencent is one of the largest social media companies in the world and the number one video game vendor. They provide internet-based services, such as social networks, music, web portals, and e-commerce, but they also offer mobile games, payment systems, and smartphones.

Tencent it’s primarily known for its web portal and app QQ and WeChat. Tencent Music Entertainment Group owns QQ Music, Kugou, Kuwo, and WeSing and has more than 800 million active users.

It was ranked by the Boston Consulting Group and Fast Company among the 50 most innovative companies in the world.

One of its many products is “DeepGaze”, a product developed in collaboration between Intel and YouTu Lab, Tencent’s AI lab. Deep Gaze can monitor users’ behavior in the marketplace and check the store’s capacity.

Countries: Tencent has stakes in over 600 companies, and began focusing on tech start-ups in Asia in 2017.

Highlight

  • In May 2017, Tencent surpassed Wells Fargo to enter the world’s top 10 most valuable companies. 
  • In 2020 Tencent and Intel partnered to develop a cloud service
  • Tencent owns a twin-tower skyscraper called Tencent Seafront Towers, also known as Tencent Binhai Mansion.

Criticism: UN partnered with Tencent in 2018 and 2020. They presumably used the Tencent VooV Meeting Platform. WeChat is China’s main surveillance app and has even been accused by users in California of censorship. Citizen Lab, a research center from the University of Toronto, has reported that Tencent monitors and censors messages sent from abroad.

 

 


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