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The Top 10 Artificial Intelligence Startups in China

For those of you who live in China, recent news about the departure of the Chief artificial intelligence (AI) scientist at Baidu, Andrew Ng, was rather a surprise (for our lovely American readers, Baidu is often dubbed the Google equivalent in China). Mr. Ng was the founder of Google Brain and a leading expert in deep learning, so news that he had jumped ship was alarming because in the world of AI investing, China is up there right behind the U.S. according to a recent article in the South China Morning Post. Here are the investment numbers in AI enterprises for the top-3 countries globally:

  • U.S. – $17.9 billion
  • China – $2.6 billion
  • U.K. – $800 million

While China’s investment in AI pales in comparison to the U.S., it’s still so meaningful that “experts are warning” AI is on the verge of becoming a bubble in China which corresponds with our recent article on “investing in AI stocks“. With China’s AI market expected to reach $9 billion by 2020, it seems like we’re hearing some conflicting messages from over there. Fortunately for our readers, we have some foreign correspondents living in those parts so we thought we would go through the China Money Network list of the top-10 AI companies in China to see what’s happening. Here’s a look at the ranking of the top-10 artificial intelligence startups in China by funding:

China Money Network’s China Top 10 AI Ranking
Ranking Name Sector Financing Total Valuation
1 iCarbonX* Healthcare $600M $1B
2 Face++ Face Recognition $147M Unknown
3 Cloudminds Robotics $130M Unknown
4 Ubtech* Robotics $122M $1B
5 SenseTime Face Recognition $120M Unknown
6 Roobo Robotics $100M Unknown
7 Unisound* Voice Recognition $80M $1B
8 Mobvoi* Voice Recognition $75M $300M
9 Appier Marketing $49.5M Unknown
10 AIspeech Voice Recognition $45M Unknown

The first thing that stands out here is half of these startups involve a form of biometric authentication. Some of these names are also familiar to us from past articles, so let’s go through each one.

iCarbonX made our list of the top-5 artificial intelligence companies to watch in the healthcare space. While estimates of their total funding vary, the founder Jun Wang claims that after the $200 million they took from Tencent, another $400 million was poured in on top of that to bring total funding to $600 million. To put it simply, iCarbonX wants to collect genomic information from one million Chinese people in the next 5 years which can be used to provide all kinds of insights, even what to eat and how long to sleep. The Chinese are less cautious than Western people about sharing information so Mr. Wang figures he can leapfrog all the other firms out there trying to work on solving these same types of problems. Here are all the members of the alliance he created to help him achieve his goals:

Their recently released app called Meum will use an individual’s biological, behavioral and psychological data to tell them how to live a healthier life.

Some people think it’s racist to say that all Chinese people look the same, but if you live among the Chinese as some of us do, you’ll find that they aren’t hesitant to let you know that all Caucasians look the same to them as well. Generic looking white males all look like “that guy from Friends”. Now, a startup called Megvii has taken in $147 million in funding to solve the problem and develop a cloud-based application that anyone can use for facial recognition. With one of the investors being Foxconn (giant supplier of Apple components), speculation abounds as to whether or not you may soon unlock your iPhone by smiling at it. Lenovo is already doing this with laptops and Alibaba is thinking about implementing a “smile to pay” functionality. The Chinese believe that you will be more attracted to people who look like you (fu qi xiang) so they’re also using the tool for matchmaking. According to the founder “I just upload my ex-girlfriend’s photo and I find a similar one”. In a country with 1.357 billion people that all look the same, he’s probably right.

It was a little over a month ago that we first wrote about Cloudminds, a relatively new Chinese startup that wants to build the cloud-based brain that will control our future robotic overlords. Founded in 2015, Cloudminds has already taken in $131 million from the likes of Foxconn and Softbank (leading Japanese tech company) to develop an “end-to-end ecosystem to support cloud connected smart machines”. They’re getting up to some really cool stuff already like working on “immersive holographic experiences free of glasses” that “one day soon will give a human face to AI”. They have their headquarters in Silicon Valley which means we probably won’t need to stumble through pages of Engrish trying to figure out what they’re getting up to.

UBTECH made our list of the top-5 biggest artificial intelligence startups anywhere based on their present day valuation of $1 billion after investments totaling just $120 million. Among their product offerings are a family robot that can teach you yoga and educational robots so that your kids can hopefully find a job someday. Perhaps of more interest to investors is their Cruzr cloud-based service robot that “allows employees to spend more time making smarter decisions”. We discussed recently about how a variety of different secretarial tasks are being replaced by AI. Maybe we can add “meet and greet” to that list as well:

Specifications and availability for Cruzr are vague given that it was only just debuted during CES 2017 at the beginning of this year.

Founded in 2014, Chinese startup SenseTime has taken in $120 million to develop facial recognition technology that uses deep learning to achieve a 99% facial recognition accuracy which they claim is better than their competitors. This same technology is also being used for security technology that focuses on text, body shapes, and vehicles. SenseTime has collaborations with over 60 different firms including Nvidia, ChinaMobile, and Xiaomi. Let’s hope they pony up and develop an English version of their website so we can keep track of what they get up to.

Earlier this year, we highlighted Roobo as a company that was developing a wireless VR headset to compete with the likes of Oculus, a drone that follows you around, and a robot powered by artificial intelligence that interacts with your kids and makes them smarter. Not much seems to be happening since our last article but you can be sure that the $100 million of funding they have raised is being put to good use building some really cool consumer electronics for the Chinese domestic market, a collection of consumers so large that they consume 50,000 cigarettes every second.

The same people complaining about how we’re not supposed to say the Chinese all look the same are also complaining that somehow we’re all racists because Alexa doesn’t speak Engrish. The truth is, Chinese is a distinctly different language and training a deep learning algorithm with only Chinese speakers will yield better results than trying to include everyone with the same algorithm.

We attempted to dig into the Unisound website using Google Translate and were immediately confronted with powerful Engrish phrases such as the following:

Cloud knows the voice of the “wisdom to enjoy the future” – Artificial intelligence is the foundation of all services

That last sentence pretty much nails the direction this whole AI thing is heading but doesn’t tell us what Unisound does. As it turns out, Unisound is the “voice of Siri” for millions of smart Chinese appliances and devices. It looks as if the Chinese are skipping the “Siri middleman” and just making the devices intelligent by using AI chipsets. Unisound is also the first “medical cloud service” in China and doctors use it to save 1.5 – 2 hours per day according to an article by Yibada.

Mobvoi first came across our radar in an article we wrote on “using deep learning to teach computers how to learn“. Apparently Mobvoi is the only company in China with a single platform that offers Chinese voice recognition, semantic analysis, and search technologies. Founded in 2012, Mobvoi has taken in $71.62 million so far from investors that include Google and Sequoia Capital. Most recently, they’ve released a $200 Android powered smart watch that looks so much more sophisticated than that awkward cube looking thing that adorns the wrists of most Apple customers:


At that price point, it could easily replace the old Garmin we charge up every other day before we go for a run think about going for a run. You can pick up one now for just $200 and not have to wear that Apple watch ever again.

Founded in 2012, Taiwanese startup Appier has taken in $48.5 million in funding to develop a platform that uses AI and big data to deliver the right ad at the right time. Isn’t that what Rocket Fuel (NASDAQ:FUEL) failed miserably at trying to do, at least so far? The first thing you might be asking is why a Taiwanese startup is included in a list of the top-10 “Chinese” startups. We can assure you that we have no interest whatsoever in opening that can of worms so we’ll move right into what it is that Appier does which makes it special. Essentially, Appier does cross screen marketing across all your devices that looks something like this:

What’s the big deal you might ask? So what you display ads across multiple screens. How hard is that? Apparently, when you use AI to do it properly, cross screen click-through-rate (CTR) is 40% higher than if you just use a single screen. This simply means that users are 40% more likely to click your ads. How interesting is that?

Our last company sounds suspiciously familiar to Mobvoi (the startup selling the cool looking watch) in that they are developing an artificial intelligence powered voice recognition platform for smart homes, cars, and robots. Founded in 2008, AISpeech has taken in $45 million in funding so far and they appear to have a whole list of clients they are already working with. This would be the third Chinese voice recognition startup we’ve talked about and since their website doesn’t have an English version, we’re stuck with lots of Engrish that doesn’t tell us a whole lot about how they differ from the other two competing startups we’ve already discussed.

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