For a company whose software speaks to more than half a billion people, iFlytek tends to keep its voice low. Founded by a group of researchers in 1999 and headquartered in the relatively sleepy eastern city of Hefei, the company was ranked as the 6th smartest firm in the world in 2017—just one place below Google—by MIT Technology Review. Over the past two decades, iFlytek developed software that can understand several Chinese dialects fluently—a feat Apple’s Siri still struggles with. It can transcribe it into text, and translate it into English instantly. In this interview, Jiang Tao, Senior Vice President of iFlytek, who joined in the firm at the very beginning, explains how the company reached this point and how it keeps hold of its world-class researchers.
In the eyes of insiders, if you are not talking about “AI and Finance,” then you risk being left behind–just as stubborn holdouts in another era were stranded when they failed to accept the Internet. Traditionally, finance has had two core functions: to lower transaction costs and to improve asset pricing. The use of the Internet has undermined the first by enabling more direct transactions, and AI is now disrupting the second by improving the speed and accuracy of asset pricing. Threatened by this are services like asset allocation, investment advisory and insurance pricing, which affects not only banks, but also investment and insurance firms.
Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa have been catching on very quickly. Google reports that it sells a voice-controlled speaker every second. While this could just be a fad, some analysts argue that the voice-activated speakers may mark the biggest shift in consumer technology since the smartphone. “Humans don’t really communicate that effectively using text,” says Richard Watson, a futurist in London. Vocal computing should speed up a lot of queries, given that most people can speak much faster than they can type. What has voice-control changed? What are the new opportunities vocal computing will offer?
Professional networking platforms have already changed the way people find and do work. Where do observers of the virtual working world think this functionality may be heading? What consequences might that have for professionals? Some observers think there will be both utopian and dystopian possibilities ahead for virtual networking because although virtual networking makes it easier to find job opportunities and reduce transaction costs, people or organizations may also misuse the online data or use it to entrench an elite, extract rents, or manipulate people. Others see more tailored networking services, such as using artificial intelligence in recruiting.