US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump made a brief video appearance in Sydney this morning, waxing lyrical about AI in English and then swapping to Mandarin.
The clips were shown during the opening morning of the GMIC+Sydney conference as a demonstration of the technology developed by Chinese artificial intelligence company iFlytek.
“I’m very happy to come to China for the first time. Artificial Intelligence is changing the world. iFlytek is really good,” the image of Trump says in Chinese.
He was follwed by Obama who said, “With iFlytek’s help, I’ve learned Mandarin. I think my Chinese is better than Trump’s. What do you think?”
Xie Fei VP of iFlytek told the audience Trump and Obama cannot speak Mandarin but if they could this is how they would sound.
The clips were created using AI to demonstrate the company’s personalised speech synthesis capability which can produce human voice. While the sync between the audio and image is out of whack, the technology mimics features of the world leaders’ voices, such as tone and intonation, to model how they would sound if they were fluent in Chinese.
Headquartered in Hefei, China, iFlytek focuses on speech recognition, translation and understanding natural language. For example iFlytek Input is a service that turns Chinese verbal messages into English text messages, and vice versa, breaking down language barriers.
Other use cases for iFlytek services include helping doctors diagnose patients, assisting teachers marking tests and allowing humans to control cars or home appliances with their voice.
This year MIT ranked the company 6th in its 50 smartest companies list. iFlytek outranked Chinese giants like Alibaba and Tencent and US powerhouses such as Apple, Intel and Facebook.
“iFlytek already dominates China’s voice recognition market and is now expanding into voice-activated command systems for cars, homes, robots, and schools,” MIT wrote.
“In the past year, it launched systems that enable people to control their cars, TVs, and home appliances via voice; invested in a startup that makes home robots; and established a joint venture to develop educational products that incorporate its instant translation features. It also established a multimillion-dollar fund to invest in AI-related startups around the world.”
Valued at $6.8 billion, the company says that more than 160,000 developers use its software and more than 400 million people use its products.
The New York Times recently profiled the company and its close ties to the Chinese government, reporting “As China tests the frontiers of artificial intelligence, iFlyTek serves as a compelling example of both the country’s sci-fi ambitions and the technology’s darker dystopian possibilities.”
For example “IFlyTek has said its technology can monitor a car full of people or a crowded room, identify a targeted individual’s voice and record everything that person says,” The New York Times reports.