A Meitu smartphone store in Wuhan, Hubei province, July 25, 2017. (PHOTO / VCG)
Riding high on a mission to leap to the front of the nation's pack in artificial intelligence, China’s beauty-enhancing app developer and smartphone maker Meitu is bankrolling a big effort in the technology that essentially shores up its transition from an internet company to a stalwart innovator in artificial intelligence.
“Backed by our facial recognition technology, Meitu has been known for its pursuit of artificial intelligence since its founding in 2008,” Wu Xinhong, the company’s founder and CEO, told China Daily on the sidelines of the 2018 Boao Forum for Asia annual conference being held on the southern island province of Hainan.
Backed by our facial recognition technology, Meitu has been known for its pursuit of artificial intelligence since its founding in 2008
Wu Xinhong, CEO, Meitu
“Basically, this year has seen Meitu evolve into an artificial intelligence company in every single way,” he said.
Based in the southeastern city of Xiamen, Fijian province, Meitu set up its artificial intelligence laboratory MTlab four years ago in its quest to chart its course of breakthroughs in computer vision and machine learning.
In November last year, the company rolled out the world’s first ever artificial intelligence painting robot, Andy the ArtBot, on its eponymous app, which uses image reconstruction technology to repaint selfies with a range of styles and visual effects.
As another poster child of Meitu’s artificial intelligence-powered “black technology”, MTskin - a virtual dermatologist built into the company’s cosmetics and skincare e-commerce platform Meitu Beauty - followed to make the market debut. Known for its skin testing function, MTskin can diagnose skin conditions merely from a selfie and output recommendations for skincare and cosmetics products.
The Hong Kong-listed company, whose HK$4.6-billion flotation in 2016 set the stage for an initial public offering spree from the mainland’s new economy enterprises to the Asian financial center, is virtually redefining what is meant to be beautiful in the most populous country on earth.
Its technological push in artificial intelligence - the next big thing poised to remake almost every sector of the economy - is in line with a national-level economic experiment, which sees China emerge as an impeccable frontrunner in a new global arms race, either a close second to the United States or already one step ahead of its Western counterpart.
A State plan, issued in July last year, calls for China to become a global leader in the promising industry by 2030. With tech behemoths like Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu losing no time in getting on board, Meitu is looking to underscore its status as one of a crop of homegrown firms spearheading China’s artificial intelligence vision, Wu reckoned.
He believed the company benefits from an “early-mover advantage”, or how innovative pioneers outperform newcomers, which comes from the huge selfie-loving user base it has amassed, as well as the technological capacity it has built up for years.
“Meitu has proven to the world there’s a ‘rigid demand’ for beauty-enhancing software products. Such a rigid demand makes our technological push a ‘must-to-have’ rather than a ‘nice-to-have’,” said Wu.
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“The massive demand among our predominately young, beauty-conscious female users also gives us a leg up to test the potentials of artificial intelligence.”
Across Meitu’s three backbone apps - Meitu, BeautyCam and Meipai - some 454.7 monthly active users produce a sea of big data, which stands as the cornerstone of the company’s advances in artificial intelligence, he said.
Apart from artificial intelligence, Meitu aims to make progressive headway in technologies like virtual reality, 3D and biotech that could blaze a trail in its fundamental business of inspiring more people in expressing their beauty.
Behind all the technological push is the company’s determination to polish its brand as a company known for its growing technological prowess, Wu added.