What is SenseTime's Massive New AI Data Center?
Companies in China on the bleeding edge are tethered to the State
I like watching AI pure-play companies a lot. One of them is China’s SenseTime. The Chinese government has rolled out a series of policy documents and public pronouncements that are finally putting meat on the bone of the country’s governance regime for artificial intelligence (AI).
Their companies appear to be more aligned with the will of the State. SenseTime has said on January 27th, 2022 that its new Artificial Intelligence Data Center in Shanghai has commenced operations, significantly boosting its processing output.
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If companies like SenseTime and ByteDance are increasingly tethered to the Chinese State, so are Cloud companies like Microsoft and Amazon tethered to the U.S. Defense and the Pentagon.
New data center to boost SenseCore for universal AI capabilities
SenseTime says the Artificial Intelligence Data Center (AIDC) in Shanghai’s Lin’gang free trade zone will significantly improve the capabilities of its SenseCore AI infrastructure, boost its innovation of facial recognition and other applications, and enhance its competitiveness across various industries.
China is on the verge of building an AI surveillance capitalism that is years ahead of the West. Trust me there is likely more competition and free-market capitalism in China than there is in the U.S. where so much consolidation has taken place. This is because China’s digital economy is actually much more dynamic with more consumers in cities of different tiers.
So why is the scale of SenseTime’s Data center noteworthy? The expansion of AI supercomputing infrastructure has been one of SenseTime’s long-term strategies to support the mass production of AI models.
After breaking ground in July 2020, the newly launched AIDC will bring SenseTime’s total computing capacity to over 4.91 exaFLOPS. Together with SenseTime’s 23 AI supercomputing clusters strategically located across major geographic markets, the Lingang AIDC will advance the company’s innovation and enhance its competitiveness to empower digital transformation for various industries and facilitate the development of Smart Business, Smart City, Smart Life and Smart Auto.
If in the west Microsoft is among the primary digital transformation leader, in China dozens of companies in various fields are all pushing their smart city concepts forward. You might say that China is already in the 4th industrial revolution. Even with electric vehicle adoption you can see how the U.S. is years behind Europe and China.
While in the West you have a few monopoly BigTech powers that own the future of American A.I. in China you have an entire ecosystem and infrastructure around the development of artificial intelligence. SenseTime is just one of the pure-play facial recognition startups and it’s not even a monopoly though its scale is impressive.
The AI computing center will form an ecosystem that lowers the barriers for various industries to entry for large-scale AI applications and continuously expand the boundaries of the industrialization of AI. In 2019, SenseTime was put on the U.S. Entity List, an export blacklist, which restricts the company’s ability to get access to certain technologies originating from the U.S. This caused it to delay its U.S. IPO and go to Hong Kong instead. That may have changed the future of artificial intelligence in China.
Enhance SenseCore’s capabilities to drive up future AI productivity
The SenseCore AI Infrastructure integrates the three layers of models, deep learning platforms and computing infrastructure, to accelerate industry-level AI model deployment and commercialization.
As an integral part of the computing infrastructure layer, the AIDC will enhance SenseCore’s key capabilities as a versatile AI-as-a-Service offering, providing customers with computation resources and large-scale data management for training AI models at a low cost.
China Will Win the AI-as-a-Service Ecosystem
SenseTime’s new AI center could be instrumental in giving China an edge. The SenseCore will help enhance the company’s AI-as-a-Service offering to provide customers with computation resources and large-scale data management for training AI models at a low cost.
Multiple provinces and regions across China have been stepping up investment and efforts to build AI computing centers in a bid to further enhance the sustained development of local AI computing power.
China’s growing sophistication in AI governance is also quite a spectacle to behold in recent months and years.
In 2020 and 2021 it appears that the strongest and most immediately influential moves in AI governance have been made by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), a relatively new but very powerful regulator that writes the rules governing certain applications of AI. The CAC’s approach is the most mature, the most rule-based, and the most concerned with AI’s role in disseminating information.
China is becoming more mature in its understanding of National Defense as it relates to AI and AI Governance.
In addition to the massive new data center, SenseTime claims to have 23 supercomputing clusters located across strategic markets.
SenseTime’s IPO in Hong Kong has gone really well. The Financial Times reports that the company’s share price is up 86 percent since its debut and the company’s market capitalization is $30.6 billion.
SenseTime’s success up to this point displays China’s sudden grandeur in A.I. capabilities. SenseTime is said to have been criticized as “an expensive academic endeavour with little hope of commercial success.” But CEO Xu’s company attracted notable backers such as SoftBank, Tiger Global and Silver Lake. Softbank (Vision Fund) has also been a significant backer of ByteDance, another consumer-AI leader known in the west for its TikTok app.
In China today in 2022, many cities have built or are building their own AI Centers. Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province became the first city in China to officially launch an AI computing center on May 31, 2021, which focuses on major AI application scenarios such as smart manufacturing, gene sequencing, and can be linked into many fields including autonomous driving, Chinanews.com reported.
Meanwhile, AI computing centers in Xi'an, Chengdu, and Henan Province entered construction in 2021, with several cities planning to launch their own local facilities. China’s ability to build specialized infrastructure and grow companies in very short periods displays its innovation supremacy in the 2020s already. It’s smart city approach to the 4th industrial revolution is shocking when you compare it to the U.S., where infrastructure is old and R&D and even Venture Capital isn’t being funneled or done in a very strategic manner.
SenseTime’s success is a bit of a poster-child for China’s growing AI centric society and craving for technological power.
SenseTime managed to cultivate a wide network of customers that employ its facial recognition software in smartphones to security cameras, including China Mobile, HNA Group, Huawei, and the Chinese government. Thus Beijing has a capacity to grow the companies it has the closest ties to into global super-powers that will be able to wield global power in their domain both commercial and in terms of strategic BigData.
Let’s be clear, it’s totally normal for huge companies in Chian to be tethered to the State. It’s not some conspiracy. For instance, in the case of SenseTime, its partnership with the Chinese government is a large portion of its revenue, with the Wall Street Journal previously reporting that facial recognition and computer vision services provided to municipal governments and agencies comprised 48 percent of SenseTime’s revenue in the first half of 2021. It is after all, a facial recognition company!
I also have a Newsletter where I write about ChinaTech and their rising interest in becoming a technology super power.
In the grand scheme of things, when Firms are tethered to the State, either the Pentagon or the Chinese State they likely have a better chance of doing well. Those government contracts and favoritism will hold real business advantages. SenseTime’s connections to Beijing are more valued by investors than its path to profitability as Xu becomes a part of a new generation of China’s tech leaders, according to some, and this is not simply patriotic but is a big part of their business model.
In this sense the top Firms in China’s tech dynasty are augmented by their association with the Chinese State that will make their western counterparts (if they existed in facial recognition) at a significant disadvantage. The will of the CCP creates an almost shadow like Neo-Surveillance Capitalism with its own rules for global domination. Whether your name is Huawei, SenseTime, ByteDance or Baidu, you are all peas from the same pod.
Specs of SenseTime’s New Data Center
The center covers a total area of 130,000 square meters, holds 5,000 computer racks and was built with US$880 million worth of investments. The infrastructure has a designed computing capacity of 3.74 exaFLOPS, which is one of the strongest among data centers in Asia.
As for AI Governance for China, 2021 was a big year. On September 25, 2021 the National New Generation Artificial Intelligence Governance Specialist Committee published Ethical Norms for New Generation Artificial Intelligence (Ethical Norms), whose purpose is to incorporate ethics into the entire artificial intelligence (AI) life cycle and to provide ethical guidance to natural persons, legal persons, and other related institutions engaged in AI-related activities.
The Chinese source text is available online at: http://www.most.gov.cn/kjbgz/202109/t20210926_177063.html
An archived version of the Chinese source text is available online at: https://perma.cc/RC4V-Q2FX
For years I have been following the evolution of companies such as SenseTime, ByteDance, Meituan and others like them who are a new breed of China technology company.
Thanks for reading!