Being an American or Chinese company helps, so does developing or embracing artificial intelligence. But perhaps the most striking thing that many on the list of the 50 Smartest Companies have in common is the fact that most of us have never heard of them.
The list is put together by the MIT Technology Review and is dominated by firms based in the US or China.
Three Chinese companies - voice recognition company iFlytek, developers of the WeChat instant messaging service Tencent and facial recognition company Face++ - feature in a top 11 otherwise filled with American companies.
Three of the top five are developing AI technologies as part of their business offering.
While big names such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook all feature, the list is far from just a compilation of the largest and most powerful tech companies on the planet. There are smaller firms on the list too.
MIT Technology Review says the list represents its editors’ “best guess as to which firms will be the dominant companies of the future”, based on their current development of technology.
Here’s the top 11:
Headquarters: Santa Clara, California
Valuation: $90.9 billion
MIT Technology Review places Nvidia at the top of its list not for its main business of selling graphics chips for video games, but for quickly establishing itself as the leading provider of processing power for AI software. The company says all the major Internet and cloud-service providers use its chips to accelerate their processes, and a number of large carmakers, including Toyota, are using its autonomous-driving technology.
Headquarters: Hawthorne, California
Valuation: $12 billion
Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s space travel venture SpaceX takes the second spot for its development of reusable rockets. These make space travel far cheaper and faster, and are critical to SpaceX’s long-term goal of establishing an interplanetary transport system. The start-up has also begun preliminary tests of its Falcon Heavy booster, which is expected to be the world’s most powerful rocket when it is completed later this year.
Headquarters: Seattle, Washington
Valuation: $479.3 billion
Amazon makes the list for its use of a range of AI technologies, including computer vision, machine learning, and natural-language processing, to reinvent mobile computing and shopping. Amazon is moving its technology from online to real world shopping through its Seattle-based Amazon Go convenience store. Customers simply enter the store, scan an app on their smartphones, and walk out with their purchases. Amazon uses AI, cameras, and sensors to identify the products they have selected and bills them automatically — no lines or checkouts necessary.
Headquarters: Mountain View, California
Valuation: $1.1 billion
Genetic testing company 23andMe sells reports on risks for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eight other conditions. The company has more than 2 million customers worldwide, and its DNA-related products have been used in a number of research projects, including studies of female fertility, depression, Parkinson’s disease and even nail biting.
Headquarters: Mountain View, California
Valuation: $673.9 billion
Google parent company Alphabet is responsible for subsidiaries that are technology leaders in AI, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Its DeepMind division keeps devising new ways for AI systems to mimic human intelligence, while its self-driving-car project, Waymo, continues to improve performance.
Headquarters: Hefei, China
Valuation: $6.8 billion
iFlytek already dominates China’s voice-recognition market and is now expanding into voice-activated command systems for cars, homes, robots and schools. It has also established a multimillion-dollar fund to invest in AI-related start-ups around the world. It says that more than 160,000 developers use its software and more than 400 million people use its products.
7. Kite Pharma
Headquarters: Santa Monica, California
Valuation: $5.7 billion
This immunotherapy company is taking the body’s T cells, which naturally fight infections, and engineering them to fight cancer. It is furthest along with its therapy for aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with more than a third of one study’s participants showing no sign of disease six months after treatment.
Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
Valuation: $350 billion
Owners of China’s biggest social network, WeChat, TenCent are credited by some as revealing the future of social media. Though WeChat already boasts more than 900 million monthly active users, Tencent keeps expanding the mobile app so that it now offers messaging, online gaming, shopping, music, videos and peer-to-peer payments.
Headquarters: Tarrytown, New York
Valuation: $55.5 billion
Biotech company Regeneron uses genetic information to focus its drug development efforts. In March it announced that, along with the UK biobank and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, it would be sequencing genetic data from 500,000 volunteers to help support research into drug development and the connections between DNA and disease. It is also creating “off-the-shelf” engineered T cells to target tumors without requiring a patient’s own immune cells to be used - an approach that could make this field of treatment much easier to scale.
10. Spark Therapeutics
Headquarters: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Valuation: $1.9 billion
In addition to its treatment for a progressive form of blindness, the company has also been testing a way to combat hemophilia B, a blood clotting disorder. This involves intravenous treatment with viruses carrying a corrected version of the gene that codes for a blood-clotting protein called factor IX. MIT Technology Review says this is one to watch because the disease, which affects one in 5,000 men, is expensive to treat conventionally.
11. Face ++
Headquarters: Beijing, China
Valuation: $1 billion
Facial recognition company Face++’s software powers many of China’s most popular applications. Alipay, the popular online payment platform, uses the technology to let users log in and make payments using their face as ID; ride-sharing provider Didi Chuxing uses it to verify the identity of its freelance drivers; and smartphone app maker Meitu uses it to offer highly detailed photo-retouching features. The five-year-old start-up is believed to be the first facial recognition unicorn, having raised at least $145 million in recent years, including at least $100 million in December 2016.
You can view the full top 50 list of the smartest companies in 2017 here.