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Naver invests in AI voice assistant firm SoundHound

Feb 23,2017
Naver, operator of Korea’s most popular search engine, has made a strategic investment in SoundHound, a Silicon Valley-based voice-recognition technology developer, the company said Wednesday.

The investment, made in conjunction with its messaging app affiliate Line, is the latest in a string of moves by the portal site operator to ramp up its business in voice-powered artificial intelligence. Three months ago, Naver invested in Devialet, a French high-end audio technology start-up.

SoundHound, founded in 2005, specializes in developing engines for automatic speech recognition, which converts voice into text, and natural language-understanding technology, which helps machines interpret the actual meaning of speech. The company is best known for SoundHound, a service that identifies music playing in a room, and Hound, a voice-controlled virtual assistant release last March.

“With the partnership, Naver has secured a partner with independent technology in voice-enabled AI and a chance to understand technological trends in Silicon Valley,” the company said in a statement Wednesday.

Naver is making heavy investments in companies related to voice recognition, with consideration for the technology’s wide potential in application. Its own voice-recognition technology, called nVoice, is used in various services on its site, including one that reads out sentences in an online dictionary and the company’s translation app Papago.

The portal giant also plans to release a prototype version of its voice-powered virtual assistant Amica by the end of this month.

The amount of investment in SoundHound has not been disclosed due to contract terms. But according to SoundHound, the total amount of capital it attracted in the last investment round where Naver participated was $75 million. American chipmaker Nvidia and Korea’s Samsung Electronics also participated as strategic investors in the round.

Other global tech giants are also focusing on taking the lead in the voice-powered AI market. Amazon has developed a voice-controlled speaker-type assistant called Echo based on its AI platform Alexa, while Google is attempting to dominate the market with Google Home, also a voice-activated speaker.

Among local players, Samsung recently acquired the American start-up Viv Labs and has tasked it with developing a voice assistant to rival Apple’s Siri. Korea’s largest mobile carrier, SK Telecom, has also jumped into the voice-powered assistant market with Nugu, while another telecom company, KT, has developed a service called GiGA Genie.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]