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Search Naver at your voice command

App now comes with feature that can act as a personal assistant
Dec 23,2017
이미지뷰
Screenshots demonstrating Naver’s in-app voice assistant. From left: Users can press the microphone icon next to the search bar to activate the assistant. The query “Recommend movies about a grandma and grandson” will produce a list of films. Traffic conditions can be called from Naver’s map app. The assistant can also recognize music. [NAVER]
Naver, the country’s most widely used search engine, now has an artificial intelligence-based search function on its app that will allow people to run searches through voice command.

The company said Friday that it integrated its conversational AI engine known as “Naver i” with its AI platform Clova, developed in partnership with its chat app affiliate Line, to enable a wider range of voice-activated services on its mobile app.

The voice search function can be activated by calling out “Hello Naver” or touching the microphone icon next to the search bar. The feature improves on the simpler voice function made available this year in which the app transcribed voice to text.

The improvement allows the search function to be more conversational like Apple’s Siri, SK Telecom’s Nugu or KT’s GiGA Genie.

A prompt of “Show me news related to bitcoin,” for example, generates several headlines related to cryptocurrencies and a scrolling feed of news articles.

The app can also understand more complicated queries like “Recommend movies about a grandma and grandson” after which it will show a list of movies with plots based on maternal relationships.

Since Naver also operates a diverse range of apps with functions like translation and shopping, the voice-activated assistant can open up or link to other apps that can provide the requested services.

For instance, a prompt of “How do you say, ‘Where is the nearest subway station?’ in Japanese” will result in a read-out of the translated sentence using data from Naver’s translation app Papago.

Naver Map, Naver Music and Naver Shopping are similarly linked with the voice assistant.

The feature also allows users to take screenshots or copy the URL of a page through voice command. The feature can be called up even when a user is reading a web page in the app.

Naver said the feature is the outcome of years of research in artificial intelligence and voice recognition. The tool works by first transcribing the user’s voice into text. Then, it uses natural language processing to break down the meaning of the text. The conversation management module determines the best answer to the question based on accumulated information in the company’s database.

“Since Naver’s AI uses machine learning, the more conversations that the Naver app has with users, the smarter it gets,” the company said.

Naver joins a host of phone manufacturers, internet giants and telecom companies that are investing in voice recognition technology.

Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Samsung’s Bixby are the three big players in mobile phone voice assistants, while Amazon and Google both hold a huge market share globally in voice-activated speakers.

“If traditional web search industry was a battle between portal operators like Naver, Kakao and Google, it is likely the market will be a battleground for infinite war between tech giants from various sectors like Amazon, Apple, Samsung and SK Telecom that were previously not considered competitors,” said Ryu Min-ho, a professor at Hoseo University’s Graduate School of Management of Technology.

The market for voice-search is rapidly expanding. According to the research firm comScore, half of all searches by 2020 will be performed through voice command.

Last May, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said 20 percent of queries on its mobile app and Android devices were being down through voice search.

Naver’s upgraded service is currently only available on Android devices, though the company said it will soon offer updates for Apple’s iOS users as well.

On Friday, Naver also unveiled an upgraded image search function.

By taking photo of a restaurant’s signboard with the app, users can get full information on opening hours, menus and reviews of the restaurant.


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