A successful $600 million funding round has catapulted Chinese artificial intelligence company SenseTime into the position of the most valuable AI start-up in the world.

Image: CB Insights/Bloomberg

Thanks to a group of backers, including entrepreneur Jack Ma’s Alibaba group, visual recognition systems developer SenseTime now has a market valuation of more than $3 billion.

According to tech-ecosystem website Crunchbase, SenseTime, which was founded in 2014, “develops face recognition technology that can be applied to payment and picture analysis”, such as bank card verification and security systems.

It was ranked fifth in China Money Network's 2017 China AI Top 10 Ranking and provides facial recognition technology to more than 300 companies, including China Mobile and Huawei Technologies.

Business news site Bloomberg says SenseTime has doubled its valuation in just a few months and is one of a crop of homegrown companies spearheading Beijing’s ambition to become the world leader in AI by 2030.

SenseTime contributes to the world’s biggest surveillance system, with Bloomberg noting: “If you’ve ever been photographed with a Chinese-made phone or walked the streets of a Chinese city, chances are your face has been digitally crunched by SenseTime software built into more than 100 million mobile devices”.

The backing of Alibaba, often compared to Google and Amazon in the west, is crucial as it can help to provide SenseTime with the internet infrastructure it needs to expand its Viper system across China. This is used by Chinese police to track crime, monitor accidents and to search for suspects.

The company is also aiming for another funding round that will lift its valuation to more than $4.5 billion, Bloomberg reports, as SenseTime looks to diversify further into autonomous vehicle and virtual augmentation technologies.