Late­comer to AI field, but has a slight edge

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By MA SI and ZHENG YIRAN

Ten­cent Hold­ings Ltd, best known for its all-in-one app WeChat, is mak­ing in­roads into ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence or AI to give its ex­isit­ing busi­nesses a tech fil­lip.

Though a late­comer to the voice com­put­ing field, the Shen­zhen-based com­pany aims to catch up with ex­ist­ing play­ers on the back of its sprawl­ing ecosys­tem and in­creas­ing in­vest­ments in speech recog­ni­tion and nat­u­ral lan­guage pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

In late June, Ten­cent un­veiled Xiaowei, an in­tel­li­gent voice com­put­ing plat­form de­vel­oped on the ba­sis of WeChat’s voice recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy.

Xiaowei comes with all the usual bells and whis­tles of voice as­sis­tants: weather re­ports, traf­fic up­dates, mu­sic re­quests and news blurbs.

Ten­cent’s Chi­nese peers Alibaba Group Hold­ing Ltd and Baidu Inc had also launched sim­i­lar open voice com­put­ing plat­forms, in the hope that more third-party ser­vice part­ners will con­nect with their dig­i­tal as­sis­tants.

What helps Ten­cent stand out, how­ever, is its sprawl­ing ecosys­tem. It has in­ter­ests in e-com­merce, ride-hail­ing, food de­liv­ery, ed­u­ca­tion and search en­gine busi­nesses.

It has li­cens­ing deals across mo­bile/on­line games, movies, mu­sic, sports and lit­er­a­ture. All of these can be linked to Xiaowei and used through voice com­mands by users of Ten­cent’s prod­ucts and ser­vices.

WeChat’s 938 mil­lion users share voice mes­sages with friends. That’s data fod­der for Xiaowei, which can im­prove the ac­cu­racy of voice recog­ni­tion.

Mao Hua, head of the Xiaowei project at Ten­cent, said among the cur­rent part­ners are ride-hail­ing com­pany Didi Chux­ing, elec­tronic ap­pli­ances brand Midea and search en­gine So­gou.

Hard­ware maker Asus also plans to launch Xiaowei-pow­ered ed­u­ca­tional and home com­pan­ion robots this Septem­ber.

The Xiaowei plat­form came into be­ing af­ter Ten­cent es­tab­lished its first US-based AI re­search lab­o­ra­tory in Seat­tle in May.

For­mer Mi­crosoft re­searcher Yu Dong is in charge of the lab, which fo­cuses on how to drive fun­da­men­tal re­search in, and com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tion of speech recog­ni­tion and nat­u­ral lan­guage un­der­stand­ing.

Yu said the de­vel­op­ment of AI de­pends on four core el­e­ments: rich ap­pli­ca­tion sce­nar­ios, big data, strong com­put­ing abil­ity and ex­cel­lent sci­en­tific tal­ents.

“In the past 18 years, Ten­cent has ac­cu­mu­lated rich re­sources in these as­pects, which are im­por­tant basics to de­velop AI,” Yu said.

Con­tact the writer at masi@chi­ .

Ten­cent has ac­cu­mu­lated rich re­sources ... which are im­por­tant to de­velop AI.” Yu Dong, head of Ten­cent’s AI lab in Seat­tle

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