Briefing: Alibaba’s AI Labs to invest $15 million in Chinese dialect project

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阿里 AI Labs 将投入 1 亿元进行方言保护 – TechNode Chinese

What happened: Alibaba’s AI Labs announced on Wednesday that it’s going to invest RMB 100 million ($15 million) in research and development projects around Chinese dialects. The unit will create a Chinese dialect database through dialogue-based sample collection from a dedicated app and smart speakers. The company’s smart speaker Tmall Genie will learn to recognize the dialect common in the southwestern Sichuan province first, and then cover all major dialects in the future. To achieve the goal, the company is partnering up with government institutions, linguistic experts, and universities.

Why it’s important: China has around one hundred dialects that vary according to region. While most share similar written elements, spoken elements can be quite different, posing challenges for smart devices based on voice control. Voice-based smart speakers, including Alibaba’s Tmall Genie and Xiaomi’s Xiaoai are becoming immensely popular among China’s tech-savvy customers.