The Chinese government’s plans for mass surveillance using facial recognition have received a boost from one of the country’s tech powerhouses, after Alibaba led a $600m investment in SenseTime, which develops technology for tracking individuals.

The company is working on facial and object recognition technology that accurately can spot people using cameras, recently demonstrated on CCTV in Beijing.

Honda is using SenseTime for its driverless car research and development and it is also being used at shopping counters that allows customers to check-out using their faces.

SenseTime already smashed the record for AI funding, beating British competitor DeepMind which was bought by Google for an estimated £400m in 2014, and in 2017 received $410million in its second round of funding.

The company did not disclose its value but Reuters reported that insiders estimated the company could be worth $4.5bn.

The object detection and tracking technology developed by SenseTime Group Ltd. is displayed on a screen at the Artificial Intelligence Exhibition & Conference in Tokyo, Japan, on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 - Credit: Bloomberg

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The object detection and tracking technology developed by SenseTime Credit: Bloomberg

US university Massachusetts Institute for Technology is working with SenseTime for its research into “human and machine intelligence”. It is already working with 40 local governments in China which use its CCTV recognition, helping spot people of interest during festivals and in airports.

SenseTime is partly funded by Qualcomm, a chip-company that US president Donald Trump blocked from what would have been one of the biggest technology mergers in history. Mr Trump quashed Qualcomm’s planned purchase of another American chipmaker over concerns it would risk national security.

Recent sale of British Tech companies

The partnership would allow Qualcomm to use SenseTime’s algorithms in smartphones or devices using its chips.

China is hoping to become the international leader in AI, and industry which it hopes will be worth $63.3bn by 2025. It is already using facial recognition at borders to detect registration plates and drivers’ faces.

It has been estimated that AI could add an additional £630bn to the UK economy by 2035 an independent review commissioned by the government as part of its Industrial Strategy found.

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