China’s second largest search engine has entered into a strategic cooperation with Shanghai-listed Zhangyue Technology, the developer of iReader, an e-book reader like the Kindle and an app offering pay-to-view novels. The goal is to apply artificial intelligence technologies in the online literature sector, according to a Sogou press release.
For the first step of the partnership, Sogou will develop two video-based AI novel readers for Zhangyue. They will be based on and look and sound exactly the same as the two popular Chinese authors Yue Guan and Bu Xin Tian Shang Diao Xian Bing. Videos of the AI versions of the authors reading their novels can be played back on the Zhangyue app.
Before getting into the online literature space, Sogou has already used AI technologies, including speech synthesis, image detection, and prediction on the world’s first AI news anchors, along with China’s official Xinhua News Agency. An English-speaking and a Chinese-speaking AI news anchor have been in daily use on Xinhua’s website since November 2018.
The new AI novel readers will use the same technolgies behind the AI news anchor and therefore might look and sound similar. It’s yet unclear whether Zhangyue app users will find a use for these AI authors after the novelty effect wears off.
Sogou’s explorations beyond the media sector can be seen as an attempt for Sogou to commercialize its AI technologies, at a time when its core search engine business has slowed. The company, which has Tencent as one of its largest shareholders, booked USD 303.6 million in revenue in the second quarter of this year, a 1% increase year-over-year, out of which USD 276.2 million, was from search and search-related revenues, representing a 2% increase year-over-year.
However, commercializing advanced AI technologies is still a challenge for startups and large companies such as China’s largest search engine Baidu. It is trying to commercialize its autonomous driving technologies with a robo-taxi fleet of 10 vehicles in Changsha, the capital of Central China’s Hunan province.
Shanghai-based artificial intelligence startup Xmov has closed its Series A equity financing round, pulling in several hundred million yuan (RMB 100 million is equivalent to USD 14.5 million) from investors including Sequoia China and Morningside Venture Capital, KrAsia reported in June. Xmov, which features AI technologies that can capture a live actor’s movements, including gestures and eye movements and map them to generate three-dimensional cartoons that are performing the same motion, is also trying hard to find buyers for its technologies.