Voice recognition expert Daniel Povey in talks to join Xiaomi

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A Xiaomi store in Beijing on Sept. 28, 2019. (Image credit: TechNode/Coco Gao)

Daniel Povey, former Johns Hopkins professor and developer of open-source speech recognition toolkit Kaldi, is currently in talks to join smartphone maker Xiaomi to develop a next-generation voice recognition platform for the company.

Why it matters: Xiaomi has sharpened its focus on its smart home ecosystem, which is typically controlled using the device maker’s smart speakers and voice assistant.

  •  Johns Hopkins fired Povey after he broke into a student sit-in at the university in May with bolt cutters. The students reportedly locked themselves in the institution’s administration building to protest the university hiring a private police force to maintain order on campus.
  • Johns Hopkins said Povey’s actions endangered the university’s students, which led to his dismissal.

“I am very close to signing an agreement to work for Xiaomi in Beijing. Would leave before end of 2019, and would hire a small team there to work on next-gen `PyTorch-y’ Kaldi.”

—Povey on Twitter

Details: Povey, an important figure in the speech recognition field, was originally hired by Facebook after his dismissal from the university. However, he eventually declined the posting when the social media giant added conditions to his contract due to the circumstances under which he left Johns Hopkins.

  • Xiaomi was not immediately available for comment when reached by TechNode on Friday.
  • In a post on his personal website dated August 16, Povey said that he was seeking opportunities to work for a “Chinese company and maybe get a part-time position at a Chinese university.”
  • Xiaomi’s XiaoAi voice assistant is so far only available in Chinese, though Povey’s hiring may hint at the company seeking to expand functionality to other languages.
  • The voice assistant had been activated 100 million times since its launch last year, the company’s CEO Lei Jun said in January.

Context: Xiaomi adopted a strategy this year dubbed “Smartphone + AIoT,” or artificial intelligence of things, as it expanded its connected device offering, hoping to combat a slowdown in China’s smartphone market.

  • Voice control is central to this strategy as the company adds voice assistant functionality to an increasing number of devices, including washing machines and smart locks.
  • Xiaomi said in its first-half results that the AI assistant has around 50 million monthly active users, up 88% year on year.
  • Povey is a key developer of Kaldi, an open platform used by researchers and developers for speech-related applications.