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.
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?