Chatbot Xiaoice wants to be face of future human-machine interactions



(China Daily) Xiaoice, an artificial intelligence initiative, that was spun off from US tech giant Microsoft Corp last month as an independent venture, is looking to be a platform to power new generation AI-enabled human-machine interactions.


The company believes that AI-human interaction will become ubiquitous in the future and virtual AI assistants will be common in hardware such as automobiles and home appliances, as well as in a variety of software and applications.


Harry Shum, chairman of Xiaoice and former executive vice-president of Microsoft, said just as Microsoft predicted in 1975 that everyone would have a personal computer in the future, the company believes that everyone will have a personal AI assistant in the future.


“The number of AI beings will even exceed the entire global population in the future because people may need different AI beings to satisfy their different demands in the future,” Shum said.


Xiaoice wants to be the platform to power these AI beings, just like Microsoft’s Windows operating system does for PCs, Shum said.


On Thursday, Xiaoice unveiled new functions such as empowering consumers to build his or her own virtual boyfriends or girlfriends. The company also launched an AI-powered X suit of software, which can automatically help consumers write texts and create audio programs.


Last year, Xiaoice made the Avatar Framework, which enables Xiaoice to chat, sing songs and draw pictures, available to other companies. The technology allows the companies to have multiple AI capabilities on their products, such as building their own voice-activated AI assistant to control home appliances and using AI to design clothing patterns, the company said.


Xiaoice said it clocked sales of over 100 million yuan ($14.5 million) in the past year, as it experimented with commercializing its AI technologies.


Microsoft announced in July that it was hiving off Xiaoice into an independent entity, so as to accelerate Xiaoice’s localized innovation and build out of the chatbot’s commercial ecosystem.


Xiaoice, which started as a chatting robot in 2014, has already been “talking” with more than 660 million users, published collections of poetry, released and composed dozens of songs, as well as held a painting exhibition.


It has also been functioning as a voice-activated virtual assistant in 450 million units of third-party smart hardware, including smartphones and smart speakers, through its partnership with Huawei Technologies Co, Xiaomi Corp and other companies.


All these endeavors are part of Xiaoice’s efforts to experiment with how AI can use emotional intelligence to serve as a companion for people and how AI can be used to upgrade traditional sectors.


Xiaoice’s grand ambitions come at a time when AI is seeing wider commercialization across various sectors in China. The AI software and application market in China was worth $2.89 billion last year, and the same is expected to reach $12.75 billion by 2024. That would represent a compound annual growth rate of 39.9 percent during a six-year period, said a report released by International Data Corp, a global research and marketing services company.


Xiang Ligang, director-general of the Information Consumption Alliance, a telecom industry association, said that the AI market in China has bright prospects in the future, and the nation’s “new infrastructure” project will accelerate the use of AI in more sectors.


Source: By Ma Si | China Daily | Updated: 2020-08-21 09:40 

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