China Trusts AI to Facilitate Human Communication

November 1, 2017

With the world’s largest population, one would think that the Chinese would not have any trouble finding someone to talk to.  Apparently, China enjoys talking with robots, says the MIT Technology Review’s article, “Why 500 Million People In China Are Talking To This AI.”  Going by the name iFlyTek, the AI app acts as on-demand translation service, but it does more than translate languages.

Over 500 million Chinese are using iFlyTek to manage their conversations with other people, including dictating texts, translating accents, transcribe, and generate automated messages.  iFlyTek is programmed with all good tools related to communication: voice recognition, natural language processing, machine translation, data mining, and more.  While the app has many applications in day to day life, the translation feature still has issues and intent is lost in translation.

The iFlyTek app is used in a variety of industries, especially healthcare and driving.  Drivers issue it vocal commands sop their hands can remain on the wheel.  Also, a hospital implemented ten female-looking robots to assist the overworked medical staff.  The robots can answer questions and direct patients to the correct department.  Doctors are also using iFlyTek to dictate a patient’s medical records.  Dictation will become more important, especially since it offers people a hands-free way to get work done.  There, of course, remains problems:

Although voice-based AI techniques are becoming more useful in different scenarios, one fundamental challenge remains: machines do not understand the answers they generate, says Xiaojun Wan, a professor at Peking University who does research in natural-language processing. The AI responds to voice queries by searching for a relevant answer in the vast amount of data it was fed, but it has no real understanding of what it says.  In other words, the natural-language processing technology that powers today’s voice assistants is based on a set of rigid rules.

Vocal-based technology is becoming better, more accurate, and more reliable, but thee are still kinks in the system.

Whitney Grace, November 1, 2017



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