Alibaba is teaming up with SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI startup, to launch a not-for-profit artificial intelligence lab in Hong Kong in a bid to make the city a global hub for artificial intelligence.
Alibaba, which is SenseTime’s largest single investor thanks to a recent $600 million round at a valuation of $4.5 billion, is providing financing for the “HKAI Lab” through its Hong Kong entrepreneurship fund. SenseTime said it will contribute too, although the total amount of capital backing the initiative hasn’t been revealed.
The partners of the project — which also includes the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) — said the aim is to “advance the frontiers of AI,” which includes helping startups commercialize their technology, develop ideas and promote knowledge sharing in the AI field.
That’s all fairly general — Alibaba has a track record of politicking through technology investment schemes in Greater China and Southeast Asia — but one tangible project is a six-month accelerator program planned for September which will welcome AI startups to the HKAI Lab. Alibaba’s Cloud business and HKSTP are among the backers that will help the program offer early-stage funding to successful applicants, while Alibaba and SenseTime will help with mentoring and development during the program.
“Alibaba sees AI as a fundamental technology that will make a difference to society,” Alibaba executive vice chairman Joe Tsai said in a statement. “We envision the Hong Kong AI Lab to be an open platform where researchers, startups and industry participants can collaborate and build a culture of innovation.”
China and the U.S. are the two biggest players in the global AI battle; this project alone won’t divert that, but it could stir up potential in Hong Kong.
Alibaba maintains tight relationships in Hong Kong, particularly through the fund which is around $130 million in size. While the program is ostensibly aimed at promoting startups in Hong Kong, particularly around AI, it is also sure to galvanize Alibaba’s ties to Hong Kong’s establishment and tech community. Hong Kong is growing as a destination for startups, as a number of the city-state’s key players discussed at a TechCrunch China event last year, but still the issue of talent is a key one and this initiative could benefit Hong Kong in that respect.
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