Alibaba has invested some serious dollars in their AI program, and as an e-retail platform it’s no surprise that cranky customers are one of their top concerns. The company is now using audio speech recognition to guess just how angry a customer is over anything from a botched product to a bungled order.

Wanli Min, Senior staff data scientist in Alibaba Cloud.pic
Wanli Min, Senior staff data scientist in Alibaba Cloud

“Speech recognition will enable [Alibaba] to tell [us what] our customer’s emotions are like, and how angry [they are]. Then our customer service will be able to react to the customers accordingly, with the help of data derived from speech recognition,” Wanli Min, chief Scientist for Artificial Intelligence in Alibaba Cloud said in Cloud Computing Conference held in Shenzhen on Wednesday.

Speech recognition is the next step of Alibaba’s AI development plan. Currently, the company’s artificial intelligence initiatives focus more on visual analysis. Earlier this year, Alibaba partnered with Graphic Processing Unit provider NVIDIA and invested in face detection technology provider Face++ last year, which enables Alipay’s ‘smile to pay’ service.

“Verifying the face not only tell us who that person is, but also can tell us [their] emotion,” Mr. Min said.

According to Mr. Min, visual analysis can be also used in Alibaba’s e-commerce stores like Taobao to prevent plagiarism.

“There are some sellers who copy other merchant’s product picture, or design image. We need an automatic visual recognition function to technically determine that the two pictures are not the same,” he said.

China will lead the world in artificial intelligence, according to Harry Shum, executive vice-president of technology and research in Microsoft. Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, said that the company is developing speech recognition to better understand customers’ emotions when they call Alibaba’s customer service department.

The ecommerce giant also said that the company is looking to develop AI for smart cities in the long term, and develop AI in health and entertainment sectors in the short term.

China’s tech giants, such as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), are investing seriously in artificial intelligence. In 2013, Baidu opened a Deep Learning Institute called Silicon Valley AI Lab and is building autonomous driving vehicles. Xiaomi has established a special division on artificial intelligence, which will be one of Xiaomi’s strategic businesses in 2016, said Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun.

Image Credit: TechNode

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Eva Yoo

Eva Yoo is Shanghai-based tech writer. Reach her at

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