Huawei, the leading Chinese smartphone maker, released its virtual assistant in China way back in 2013. The virtual assistant, believed to boast over 110 million users, is however largely non-existent against more mainstream offerings like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Samsung’s Bixby. However, a new report suggests Huawei could soon get a lead on these big tech companies by integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into its virtual assistant to understand human emotions.
Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa are functional digital assistants that can understand user’s calendar appointments and suggest traffic conditions, and offer weather updates. However, they cannot understand whether the user is feeling good or sad at a particular situation. By understanding emotion, the assistant can offer more natural language-based results, and could even offer predictive suggestions currently not possible on any mobile platform.
“We want to provide emotional interactions. We think that, in the future, all our end users wish [that] they can interact with the system in the emotional mode,” Felix Zhang, Vice President of software engineering at Huawei’s consumer business group, told CNBC.
Microsoft had recently announced that its social chatbot, Xiaoice, has reached the ability to talk like humans. This is seen as one of the challenging task for tech companies globally, and Huawei might be uniquely positioned to take a lead.
Research firm Gartner says the ability of a software program to a detect a user’s mood, and respond according can be defined as “emotion AI”. It also explained that emotion AIs are not yet widespread and voice-controlled digital assistants are a natural outlet for this technology to gain traction. The research firm believes the existing virtual assistants have the ability to process commands and questions at the moment, but they lack contextual information to understand and respond to a user’s emotional state.
“Adding emotion-sensing capabilities will enable [virtual personal assistants] to analyze data points from facial expressions, voice intonation and behavioral patterns,” Gartner said in January.
James Lu, Director of AI product management at Huawei’s consumer business group told CNBC that this type of emotion AI program will attempt to keep the conversation going for as long as possible, and it will aim to ensure that a user does not feel alone. Lu also added that the software needs to be perfect in order to enable such a feature.
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Huawei was one of the first companies to integrate a dedicated neural processing unit into its mobile chipset. With the new Kirin 970 chipset, the company says its flagship devices will be faster to execute AI-based computational tasks. It could use the dedicated processing power to augment emotional capability within its virtual assistant. The Chinese company has grown to become the third largest smartphone brand globally on the basis of strong sales, but it does not have a proven track record in software just yet.
The user interface on top of its Android smartphone still seem to copy the functions of Apple’s iOS but with features like emotion AI and voice as primary source of input, Huawei can differentiate its software and other products from rivals.