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Naver unveils artificial-intelligence voice app

May 13,2017
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The new AI app from Naver is able to translate Korean into English, Japanese and Chinese but can’t accept voice commands yet. [NAVER]
Naver, the nation’s largest portal service provider, released a beta version of its artificial intelligence-powered assistant app on Friday.

The app is based on Clova, the AI platform co-developed by Naver and its affiliated chat-app provider Line, which serves as a brain for a range of its AI-powered services such as voice-powered search assistant Naver i, customized news recommendation service AiRS and translation app Papago.

Naver-Clova, the new AI assistant app, offers a wider range of services including information search, music recommendation, translations and even chit-chat on users’ voice command by integrating AI-powered services the company has already introduced.

“The core strength of the new AI assistant is in information search since the program is backed by database of nation’s largest portal site,” a spokesperson from Naver said. “In terms of understanding and offering information in Korean, our app will be the most intelligent.”

For instance, when a user asked Naver-Clova “Who is the nation’s president?” the app shows a photo and brief information about the newly elected president Moon Jae-in and replied by saying, “It is Moon Jae-in,” in a female voice. If a user asked Apple’s Siri or Samsung Electronics’ latest Bixby the same question, they would have come up with a list of search results on the web rather than the answer.

“Displaying a list of search results on web is not much different from voice-recognition technology,” the spokesperson added. “AI service should be able to understand what the user wants and provide the answer accordingly.”

If the users ask for a list of recommendations rather than one answer, the app also refers to its search engine Naver to give users recommendations of restaurants and songs. Even on relatively ambiguous requests like “Play me some funky music,” the app will come up with a list of recommended songs from Naver Music service.

As Naver’s assistant can be installed by downloading the app, all users can have a go at the app unlike pre-installed Siri, which is available only on Apple’s operating system and Bixby, which is only available through Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 phones. The Naver app is free to download only on Android operating systems but it will be available on Apple’s App Store when the screening process is finalized, according to Naver.

The app is quite competent in recognizing Korean compared to other apps, however, it cannot understand voice commands in other languages. When the system is upgraded, it will be able to speak more languages powered by its existing Papago translating service, the Naver spokesperson said.

As competitor Kakao plans to release an AI assistant app in July, the two are expected to fight for more users to predominate the market. After the AI app, the two will also battle with AI speakers, which Naver said it will release during summer and Kakao in the coming third quarter.

To beat up Naver and take the lead in the AI market, Kakao had established a wholly-owned subsidiary called Kakao Brain, dedicated to research and development of AI programs, in February.

The operator of the popular chat app Kakao Talk announced on Friday a partnership with Korea Baduk Association, a leading organization for Korea’s Go playing league, to work on AI’s deep learning technology.

Go has been spotlighted as an area where AI can step in after Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeated Korean Go expert Lee Se-dol last year.


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