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Artificial intelligence

China AI unicorn SenseTime launches automatic ‘touch-up’ tool for self-conscious live-streamers

Looking good and live-streaming go hand in hand in China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 August, 2018, 8:02am

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – or so the saying goes. Some people prefer tall and slender while others prefer short and cuddly.

Whatever your preference, in today’s image-conscious social media world people generally want to look the best they can, and that’s why SenseTime, the world’s most highly-valued artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, is offering a filter for smartphone cameras and live-streaming apps that can automatically touch you up.

Powered by AI-backed technology, the filter identifies different parts of a user’s body and face, and touches them up automatically to enhance their look – without distorting the background. The feature marks a major step up from existing products in the market that allow users to mainly “beautify” still pictures of faces and selfies, according to SenseTime.

“It’s a convenience feature – for example, imagine you feel like live streaming at 10pm but want to skip putting on make-up just for that,” said Li Xingye, SenseTime vice-president of internet and adverts business, at a product launch event held in Beijing on Wednesday. Li said the company will seek to embed the touch-up function into the live-streaming apps of major players via fee-paying partnerships.

World’s most valuable AI start-up SenseTime raises US$620 million

Founded at the Hong Kong Science Park in 2014, SenseTime specialises in facial recognition and computer vision, and has positioned itself as a “platform company” for AI technologies. Known for providing AI-powered surveillance software for China’s police, SenseTime said it achieved profitability last year on the back of selling AI-powered applications for smart cities, surveillance, smartphones, internet entertainment, finance, retail and other industries.

The company assumed the mantle of the world’s most valuable AI start-up in May, with a US$620 million round of financing that valued it at US$4.5 billion. The financing came hot on the heels of an earlier round in April led by Alibaba Group Holding, the parent company of the South China Morning Post.

The live-streaming market has enjoyed explosive growth in China in recent years, and is estimated to be worth US$4.4 billion in 2018 with viewer numbers topping 456 million, according to a Deloitte report. In June, the percentage of time spent on messaging apps among mobile users declined from 36 to 30.2 per cent compared to the same time last year, while time spent on short video apps rose from 2 to 8.8 per cent, according to figures provided by internet data services provider QuestMobile.

China’s selfie king turns his eye to social networking

To stand out from the crowd, live streamers in China do everything from zany stunts to eating mountains of food, and many go under the surgeon’s knife to improve their looks and boost popularity. In the business of live-streaming, getting more attention means earning more money from the “tips” given by fans, as well as from advertising and sponsorship revenue. At peak times each day, more than 100 platforms are live-streaming across China, creating new “internet stars” along the way.

Some of the top live-streaming platforms in China include Meitu-owned Meipai, a fashion and beauty-inspired app that has also attracted brands such as L’Oreal and Maybelline as users. Meitu markets a range of phones and apps that enable users to beautify their selfies. Meanwhile Huajiao Live, initially part of an incubator run by Qihoo 360, features hundreds of home-made live shows.

What it takes to be an Internet live-streaming star in China

Worldwide, Meitu’s apps generate about 6 billion photos a month, and it has been estimated that more than half the selfies uploaded on Chinese social media have been edited using Meitu’s products.

Currently, SenseTime’s “beautifying” function includes settings to adjust the slimness of a user’s face, arms, legs, and stomach. There is also an option to broaden or trim down shoulder width or heighten hips to look curvier.

Users should beware though – this magic can only work via the auto-beautifying function – face-to-face meetings still require the usual effort to look good.