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China’s AI Awakening: Computer Vision Startup Yi+’s New Frontiers in Tech

As noted in MIT Technology Review on “China’s AI Awakening“, China’s push in AI has created a strong momentum for Chinese startups to take advantage of this technological revolution. Now a mainstay of everyday life, Chinese businesses are looking towards the use of AI in generating tremendous commercial value. In Beijing’s Zhongguancun, China’s technology hub, several AI startups have been making huge strides in AI development and commercialization.

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In the field of computer vision, a nascent startup Yi+ made headlines on the front page of China Daily after its founder, Ms. Zhang Mo, was cherry-picked as one of China’s top ten female tech entrepreneurs. This achievement was considered an incredible feat in an industry dominated by men. Ms. Zhang was nominated by Alibaba Research Institute, China Entrepreneur Association Mulan Hui and Alibaba Innovation Centre for her outstanding achievements and credentials in tech entrepreneurship based on an assessment of Chinese female entrepreneurs.

Clearly, Ms. Zhang’s selection signaled the changing tide in the new dawn of information technology where more female entrepreneurs are venturing into hardcore tech, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing and virtual reality. In an exclusive interview with China Daily last month, Ms. Zhang expressed that rational-thinking, tech-savviness and natural sensitivity to new trends gave her the edge over male counterparts.

As reflected by Ms. Zhang and many other Chinese tech entrepreneurs, the wider sentiment present here is that there appears to be a greater interest in embracing and adopting AI technology across every sector and industry. This chain of new business reinvention will propel China into a huge market for intelligent data generation, aggregation and extraction. In line with this paradigm shift, Yi+’s mission is to enable to discover and harness the value hidden in our daily dose of visual information. By doing so, the ultimate consumer experience could be realized.

“With the assistance of technology, our eyes become smarter as more visual information is gathered, extracted and analyzed. Yi+’s AI solutions enable companies to enhance customer experience for a variety of products and services, thus attracting new users and retaining current ones,” said Ms. Zhang.

Under her leadership, Yi+ has grown from strength to strength in the short span of three years to become one of China’s leading computer vision startups. There are two flagship brands under the company: Yi+, which is an artificial computer vision engine and Dress+, a search engine designed for acquiring the latest fashion. The latter enables users to search for fashion products via images, thus creating a large-scale simultaneous “buying and watching” user experience.

Besides offering enterprises with intelligent and commercialized visual content solutions, Yi+ AI’s technology structuralizes data, thus helping content providers to realize scenario-based marketing, smart analysis and intuitive content interaction that could serve a massive number of users simultaneously. Indeed, in the past, doing precise marketing without incurring the ire of consumers is a challenge. Now, with computer vision service providers such as Yi+, smart marketing solutions have become a reality, bringing convenience and profits to the entire value chain.

Adding on to its new line of products, Yi+ has also been experimenting with Augmented Reality (AR) technology in which its technology could automatically add AR effects to a person’s face, an object or a typical scene. While Snapchat and Instagram already provide similar offerings, Yi+ AR solution could add effects in response to other facial, hand and body movements.

At present, the startup’s technology is being employed by many reputable brands. One of them is Alibaba Digital Entertainment, who engaged Yi+’s large screen AI assistant to make video content commercialization possible. This technology was known to be a major breakthrough in the over-the-top content (OTT) industry.

Riding on the wave of AI, Yi+ has been stepping up on its game to utilize the power of computer vision technology to explore the next generation of products and services. The technological background of her team presents an additional boost to Yi+’s ambition in the industry. It was known that the technical team won the first prize for 10 different categories at ImageNet, an Olympiad-equivalent computer vision contest in 2015 and 2016, surpassing the achievements of other tech titans such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Samsung and many more. In the next stage of development, Yi+‘s scenario-based, general object, product and facial detection, recognition, search and recommendation technologies will be employed in the media, entertainment and advertising industries. Intelligent solutions such as “TV+AI”, “Camera+AI”and “Marketing+AI” will deeply transform human-computer interaction in image and video applications.

Ultimately, Yi+’s goal is to quickly integrate its intelligent solutions into each of these domains by helping companies to consolidate their traffic data and content, provide end-to-end services and ultimately, scale up their platforms.

These have won the likes of China’s leading online video sites and OTT hardware, such as Youku Tudou and Alibaba Digital Media & Entertainment Group , whose massive investments in the Series A round brought the company to a more stable stage of development. In September 2017, Yi+ secured another USD$15 million for its Series B funding. The round was led by Haitong Securities, with participation from BRJ Group and an investment fund under the Bank of Beijing. This brings Yi+’s total funding to over USD$25 million. The startup’s new capital will be used on research and development, product commercialization and entry into new global markets.

In the words of Ms Zhang, computer vision is not bounded by the barriers of languages and national borders, hence companies who focus on AI technology will have opportunities to go global. Given that China has the largest and the most dynamic market in the world, the future of AI innovation engine could very well be in ChinaOwing to this fact, the startup has aspiring hopes to maintain its lead in precision algorithm and to continue to push new frontiers in computer vision technology.

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