Xiaowei benefits from Tencent’s data dominance in multiple areas such as music, social media and payments. Source: Shutterstock

Tencent jumps into AI voice assistant game with Xiaowei

THE GLOBAL appetite for voice assistants is growing and companies are taking note. This year, we’ve reported beyond Amazon’s Alexa, the likes of Baidu, Huawei, and Samsung have all recently launched their own virtual assistants.

It should come as no surprise then that Tencent, a dominating figure in China’s software space, is also coming out with a voice assistant. As reported by Tech in Asia, the Chinese tech giant’s new voice assistant, called Xiaowei, provides your standard run-of-the-mill offerings, including weather reports and news updates. It also responds to voice and facial recognition.

While TiA points out Xiaowei is “nothing new” when it comes to what’s currently available on the smart assistant market, the fact it’s a Tencent product is validation enough. This has to do with its access to an ocean of user and enterprise data.

“Tencent has a lot of data sources. WeChat is simply one channel,” Xiaowei head Mao Hua said, adding beyond WeChat, Tencent also gleans data from its music, news and video platforms.

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Amongst its many competitors, Tencent has an edge because it has developed an ecosystem of portfolio companies and licensing deals. Besides being a stakeholder in the ride-hailing, food delivery and education spaces, it also has licensing partnerships in the film, music and sports industries. On top of that, WeChat clocks 938 million active users each month.

Apple’s new HomePod is the technology company’s offering in the AI assistant market. Source: Apple

Xiaowei is in the early stages of development but it already has 100 employees plugging away on the product, spanning across Tencent’s AI Lab, WeChat, Tencent Music, Tencent Video, and Youtu Labs units. The idea is that these various product lines will be able to contribute unique AI capabilities to Xiaowei.

WeChat, in particular, will be able to train Xiaowei to grow in the areas of speech recognition and natural language processing. In the future, Xiaowei will be able to do things like multilingual translation and object detection.

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