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A Chinese unicorn backed by Google is getting ready to take on the Amazon Alexa

Li Zhifei, chief executive officer and founder of Mobvoi
Source: Li Zhifei
Li Zhifei, chief executive officer and founder of Mobvoi

China's Google-backed artificial intelligence (AI) start-up, Mobvoi, could soon take on the world's leading smart voice assistant technologies, according to the firm's founder and CEO.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Shanghai, Mobvoi's Li Zhifei told CNBC that the firm could "absolutely" compete with the likes of Amazon in the digital voice assistant market space.

"We are just like Amazon's Echo … We are making our own device and putting the technology into this device but gradually we are also going to open this AI service into third parties so that we can empower more devices," Li Zhifei told CNBC on Thursday.

In Western markets, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana are the dominant voice assistants. Amazon has continued to push Alexa across numerous products, while Google has rolled out Assistant across Android devices and its own Google Home device. Even Apple came out with its own smart speaker called HomePod this week.

Though Mobvoi's CEO acknowledged his signature chatbot device still has long way to go in order to improve its sophistication and compete on a global scale, he stressed the company was making a "huge amount of progress" in its development.

The Beijing-based start-up was founded by a group of former Google research scientists five years ago and gained prominence after launching its flagship smartwatch, Ticwatch, in June 2015. The watch's success led to a direct investment from Google and by May 2017, Mobvoi unveiled Tichome, its Chinese language chatbot designed to facilitate human-machine interaction.

"In the last few years we have made a huge amount of progress in speaker recognition but we haven't made much progress in natural language understanding, which makes the device not that smart (yet)," he added.