Alibaba low-cost voice as­sis­tant is launched

The Star Early Edition - - INTERNATIONAL - Reuters

CHINA’S’S Alibaba Group Hold­ing yes­ter­day launched a cut-price voice as­sis­tant speaker, sim­i­lar to Ama­zon.com’s “Echo”, its first foray into ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent home de­vices.

The “Tmall Ge­nie”, named af­ter the com­pany’s e-com­merce plat­form Tmall, costs 499 yuan (R969), sig­nif­i­cantly less than western coun­ter­parts by Ama­zon and Al­pha­bet’s Google, which range from $120 (R1 585) to $180.

These de­vices are ac­ti­vated by voice com­mands to per­form tasks, such as check­ing cal­en­dars, search­ing for weather re­ports, chang­ing mu­sic or con­trol smart-home de­vices, us­ing in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

China’s top tech firms have am­bi­tions to be­come world lead­ers in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence as com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Alibaba and Ama­zon, in­creas­ingly com­pete for the same mar­kets.

Baidu, China’s top search engine, which has in­vested in an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence lab with the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, re­cently launched a de­vice based on its own siri-like “Duer OS” sys­tem.

The Tmall Ge­nie is cur­rently pro­grammed to use Man­darin as its lan­guage and will only be avail­able in China. It is ac­ti­vated when a recog­nised user says “Tmall Ge­nie” in Chi­nese.

In a streamed demon­stra­tion on Wed­nes­day, engi­neers or­dered the de­vice to buy and de­liver some Coca Cola, play mu­sic, add credit to a phone and ac­ti­vate a smart hu­mid­i­fier and TV.

The de­vice, which comes in black and white, can also be tasked with pur­chas­ing goods from the com­pany’s Tmall plat­form.

Alibaba has in­vested heav­ily in off­line stores and big data ca­pa­bil­i­ties in an ef­fort to cap­i­talise on the en­tire sup­ply chain as part of its re­tail strat­egy, in­creas­ingly draw­ing com­par­isons with sim­i­lar strate­gies adopted by Ama­zon.

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