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Voice off

Jan 06. 2019
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By Suwatchai Songwanich
CEO Bangkok Bank (China)

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Chinese companies are continuing to push the boundaries of how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used in the consumer space. 

A recent example was Alibaba’s demonstration of its AI-powered customer service voice assistant. The e-commerce giant has already serviced millions of calls for Cainiao, a major logistics company in China, with Alibaba claiming its system is 94-95 per cent accurate. This compares with 84 per cent for other best-in-class services. 

Furthermore, Jack Ma’s powerhouse proved its ability to separate the signal from the noise as its technology is not only capable of successfully managing interruptions, non-linear conversations and implicit intent in human speech, it can also isolate voices in crowds. 

This pitches the system directly against Google’s Duplex, with many observers saying Alibaba has claimed pole position in the sector for now. Google, and other competitors such as Amazon Alexa, will be sure to rise to the challenge. 

Competition will likely be intense. In addition to developing its AI voice assistant, last year Alibaba also made its first move into the AI home device market with the launch of the Tmall Genie, a voice assistant speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo. While the technology is similar, the price is not – Tmall Genie sells for about US$75 (Bt2,400) compared with US$120–$180 for an Echo. 

Making a more affordable device enables Alibaba to potentially target the mass market, as well as consumers in lower income countries. It will also generate a new stream of Big Data for its AI systems to analyse and learn from, leading to improved services for consumers. 

Google Assistant rolled out Thai- and Indonesian-language support last year, expanding its overall offering to more than 30 languages in total while Apple Siri is available in some 20 languages, including Thai. Given Alibaba’s growing interest in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries we should see it extending its AI-assisted  customer services to more local languages.

China’s ambition to lead the world in AI has resonated with its homegrown tech firms. With this now extending to voice assistant services, the development of this sector should mean better services, including for Thais.

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