The combination of voice and AI continues to develop in China and will open up new “interesting possibilities” for brands in the year ahead, according to a leading agency figure.

The evolution of voice was one of several tech trends highlighted by MullenLowe group digital director Mark Haycock at the agency’s recent 9 for 2019: Trends That Matter To Asia event in Singapore.

“This year, voice is coming alive and AI is becoming a lot better at being able to understand the human context of the question,” Haycock said. (For more, read WARC’s report: Six Asia tech trends brands should know in 2019.)

A stellar example is Microsoft’s Xiaoice chat bot in China, which has graduated from text messaging to calling users for a chat on their phones. Able to hold “full duplex” conversations – where both bot and user converse at the same time, like in human-to-human voice conversations – Xiaoice has made over a million calls to users so far.

“The interactions… are becoming far more natural, and that opens up really interesting possibilities for us,” Haycock said.

So, for example, replicating sales people could be possible, allowing consumers to “take that (sales) conversation out of the store and have it at home instead, and have a natural conversation with the salesperson in their house”.

Voice can also be used in product tutorials “to talk you through the instructions of the setup rather than just reading it and getting frustrated” or “a recipe that could be talked through, rather than read”.

And brand experiences can be brought to life using voice: “Imagine ordering at KFC from the Colonel himself,” said Haycock.

KFC is of course no stranger to the innovative use of voice, having introduced an order-taking AI robot, Dumi, into its KFC Original+ concept restaurant in Shanghai back in 2016.

Spurred by the insight that young people immigrating to Shanghai from China’s provinces were reluctant to speak Mandarin to KFC staff for fear of losing face over their heavy accent, Dumi was designed specifically to understand a range of dialects and accents.

And the addition of facial recognition means it can tell the age, gender or even mood of a person. With this information, and recognising the region of the customer's accent, which indicates preferable tastes, Dumi is able to recommend a suitable meal.

Sourced from WARC