Smart speakers in China are learning dialects

Alibaba’s AI Labs is investing $15m on Chinese dialects recognition

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China has a number of dialects, and smart speakers like Alibaba’s Tmall Genie (comparable to Amazon’s Echo)  sometimes struggle to recognize them.

Alibaba’s AI Labs now says it has reserved RMB 100 million (US$14.9 million) for R&D to solve this issue.

“One of the measures is to build a dynamic database for dialects based on samples of voice interactions occurring between Tmall Genie and its users,” Alibaba told KrASIA in a written statement.

Alibaba has shipped a total of 10 million units of Tmall Genie, which, once it’s set up, can react to voice commands to, for example, start broadcasting news or switching on a light.

However, Chinese dialects, which makes the language sound quite different depending on the region, pose a great challenge for all smart speakers in China.

Tmall Genie will start by learning to recognize the Sichuan dialect first, according to Alibaba.

Likewise, Xiaomi is also endeavoring to equip its smart speaker with more dialect recognition capabilities. Its speaker could already recognize seven dialects, including the Northeast China dialect, by end of last year, Xiaomi told KrAsia.

The company’s annual report released Tuesday showed that Xiaomi’s smart speaker Xiao’ai Tongxue had more than 38.8 million monthly active users by the end of last year.

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