A Moscow-based IT giant has just launched Russia’s own version of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa.
Called Alice, the AI system is designed to respond to a wide range of voice-based queries, from the weather to the news to directions to a good restaurant. It was developed by Yandex, a company that, as TechCrunch puts it, is something close to a Russian Google, Amazon, and Uber combined; it’s even involved in financial services. As such, developers had a wealth of data upon which to train Alice using Yandex’s ‘SpeechKit’ platform, making it a particularly sophisticated AI assistant.
In a blog post officially announcing Alice, Yandex acknowledged that the development of speech recognition for the Russian language is “especially challenging… due to its grammatical and morphological complexities,” but asserted that based on “word error rate (WER) measurements, SpeechKit provides world-best accuracy for spoken Russian recognition, enabling Alice to understand speech with a near human-level accuracy.” As such, Yandex developers have also given Alice a special capability called “chit-chat”, aimed at letting users have free-flowing conversations with the AI system.
Yandex also proclaimed in its blog post that fans of the Russian dub of the Spike Jonze film Her will recognize the voice of Tatyana Shitova, the actress who took on Scarlett Johansson’s role as the self-aware AI assistant that engages in an extremely complicated relationship with the film’s human protagonist. Though at this point it seems unlikely that Alice will take on a life of its own to that extent, however sophisticated it may be.
Russian Android and iOS users can say “privyet” to Alice through the Yandex search app, while Windows device users can access a Beta version through Yandex Assistant.