“Our rivals don’t buy technology companies. They buy products, but not companies,” claims Baidu CEO Robin Li as his company announces its acquisition of natural language processing company Kitt.ai at the Create 2017 Baidu AI Developers Conference in Beijing.

Kitt.ai has “wake” technology—algorithms that let devices be programmed to wake up and start listening to human voices when prompted with a keyword—that is crucial to Baidu’s “wake up” plans for making its AI operating DuerOS fully compatible with the IoT. As general manager of the Baidu DuerOS platform, Jing Kun, said at the conference, “If we want to wake up everything, it has to be listening.” As Jing explained, “Our competitors can listen, but they don’t understand.” He identified the three key steps for a device to be able to have natural conversations with human and “listen,” “understand,” and “fulfill.” DuerOS already has voice recognition accuracy of 97% and the company is also strong in “understanding” with its masses of data and keyword queries, according to Jing.

Kitt.ai’s Founder and CEO Chen Guoguo was promptly summoned on stage. He gave a demo of Snow Boy, the Seattle-based company’s wake recognition software that compresses its coding so it can be used on almost anything. Chen taught a Mac laptop to wake up if it heard “Jing Kun, ni hao!” (“Hello, Jing Kun!”) being called and explained how the system works with any programming language and is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. The company has previously received investment from Amazon’s Alexa Fund.

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Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...