Tech Transformers

Russia launches its own version of Amazon Alexa with ‘near-human levels’ of speech recognition

Key Points
  • AI assistant being launched by Russia's largest search engine.
  • Yandex claims that "Alice" is first conversational intelligent assistant.
  • Taxi's, entertainment, news, and weather all available services.
A customer uses the Yandex.Taxi online app on a smartphone to scan for available taxi cabs in Moscow, Russia
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Russian technology company Yandex has launched an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant called "Alice".

Yandex, Russia's largest search engine, said in a press release Tuesday that Alice is the first conversational online assistant, possessing "near-human levels of speech."

"We wanted Alice to interact with users more like a human, so that users don't need to adapt their requests," said Denis Filippov, head of speech technologies at Yandex.

"In developing Alice, we leveraged our speech technologies, which currently provide the world's most accurate Russian language recognition. Based on word error rate (WER) measurements, Alice demonstrates near-human levels of speech recognition accuracy," Filippov added.

Yandex claimed in a blog post Tuesday that the digital assistant's advanced level of context allows users to carry out a more relaxed style of conversation.

"For instance, when a user asks Alice, 'What's the weather in Moscow?' and then follows with a question in slang asking, 'And what about Peter?', Alice understands the intent and provides the weather forecast for St. Petersburg," the post read.

Alice's voice recognition and synthesis rely on SpeechKit, Yandex's proprietary speech recognition software.

Alice will lift its information from Yandex's suite of services that includes taxis, shopping, payments, music, news, weather, maps and education.

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"Russia's Google"

Launched in 1997, Yandex is often described as the Russian equivalent to Google but now prefers to describe itself as a tech company built around artificial intelligence.

According to an article in The Economist in September, Yandex accounts for just over half of the search market and 61 percent of online advertising in Russia.

The firm focuses heavily on the Russian market and has signed recent deals with taxi-hailing app Uber and Sberbank, Russia's largest bank.

President Putin has criticized Yandex in the past but reportedly paid a visit in September to help mark the firm's 20th anniversary.

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