Wired

Behind the Rise of China’s Facial-Recognition Giants

Megvii, one of four highly valued Chinese facial-recognition startups, has filed for an IPO. Most of its revenue comes from surveillance and security systems.

Unfamiliar faces aren’t welcome at Beijing public housing projects. To prevent illegal subletting, many have facial recognition systems that allow entry only to residents and certain delivery staff, according to state news agency Xinhua. Each of the city’s 59 public housing sites is due to have the technology by year’s end.

Artificial intelligence startup Megvii mentioned a similar public housing security contract in an unspecified Chinese city in filing for an initial public offering in Hong Kong last week. The Chinese startup, best-known for facial recognition, touts its government dealings, including locking down public housing to curb subletting, as a selling point to potential investors.

Megvii’s filing shows the scale of China’s ambitions in artificial intelligence, and how they could influence the use of surveillance technologies like facial recognition around the world. The company is one of four Chinese AI startups specializing in facial recognition valued at more than $1 billion, qualifying them as unicorns in Silicon Valley-speak. Now, the companies are looking to expand overseas, with help from public markets.

“These companies have benefited from China’s government making it a national priority to be world leader in AI,” says Rebecca Fannin, author of the forthcoming Tech Titans of China and two previous books about China’s tech scene. That support has led to contracts and freed up government and private funds, she says. “Now you are starting to see these companies go global.”

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Wired is a monthly American magazine, published in print and online editions, that focuses on how emerging technologies affect culture, the economy, and politics. Owned by Condé Nast, it is headquartered in San Francisco, California, and has been in publication since March/April 1993
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