PM Lee explores cutting-edge technology in visit to Chinese firm

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee on a tour of Chinese technology firm SenseTime in Beijing yesterday, where he tried out a system which uses facial recognition to determine the gender, age and current mood of a person. The result is used to
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee on a tour of Chinese technology firm SenseTime in Beijing yesterday, where he tried out a system which uses facial recognition to determine the gender, age and current mood of a person. The result is used to serve targeted advertisements. Mr Lee, who has said that Singapore should learn from China in emerging areas such as cashless payments, was shown technologies that Singapore has been trying to roll out.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

BEIJING • Unlocking doors with one's face, turning into a mythical character on livestream and solving maths problems with gestures - these were some of the cutting- edge technologies that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tried out at Chinese technology firm SenseTime in Beijing yesterday.

Having said that Singapore should learn from China in emerging areas such as cashless payments, Mr Lee took the lead with his visit to the artificial intelligence (AI) company that focuses on facial recognition, big data analysis and deep learning.

SenseTime, set up in 2014, is a rising star in China's start-up scene and counts major companies China Mobile, UnionPay, Weibo and Huawei among its clients.

Mr Lee was shown technologies that Singapore has been trying to roll out under its Smart Nation initiative. These include an AI-enabled surveillance camera network that the Chongqing government has used to monitor and track 70 suspected criminals. Fourteen have been nabbed to date using the system.

SenseTime's chairman, Professor Tang Xiaoou, showed Mr Lee how traffic cameras can be made smarter: Using the firm's technology, computers are able to differentiate different forms of passenger and vehicular traffic from a livestream of vehicles passing right outside the office.

The company also demonstrated the military applications of its technologies. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen saw how AI can be used to analyse satellite imagery for military assets, and topographic and terrain data. The technologies also have disaster-relief applications, such as the mapping of road conditions and detecting cracks.

 
 

Singapore has been on a push to not only roll out more sensors such as surveillance cameras and air quality monitors, but also harness technology such as machine learning to make sense of the vast sea of data that is being collected.

The applications of AI as demonstrated by SenseTime, including the use of facial recognition as an authentication method, are relevant to three major projects under way in Singapore: The Smart Nation Sensor Platform, the National Digital Identity and e-payments.

SenseTime's technology touches all three fields.

Prof Tang shared that his firm's facial recognition is being used by a major retail client for payments in a trial cashierless department store. It is successful enough that a second one has been planned.

SenseTime has raised at least US$410 million (S$551 million) to date in venture capital, and is valued at US$1.5 billion, putting it at No. 56 on the China Money Network's China Unicorn Ranking of private tech companies valued at US$1 billion or more in China.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee explores cutting-edge tech in visit to Chinese firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe