China’s Zhizhen eyes global expansion with its artificial intelligence bot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2016, 10:56pm

Shanghai-based software company Zhizhen Network Technology, which sued Apple four years ago over a voice recognition patent for the iPhone Siri “personal assistant”, plans to expand into the US in 2017 with ambitions of becoming a global leader in artificial intelligence.

It will set up offices in Hong Kong and Silicon Valley to develop software to cater to local clients, a fresh sign that Chinese technology firms are speeding up their “go-global” drive to take on big-names such as Microsoft and Amazon for world markets.

“Taking a global view, it’s time to set sail for the largely untapped territory of artificial intelligence,” said Yuan Hui, founder and chairman of Zhizhen. “Internationalisation is a necessary step we will take to develop our businesses.”

In a report on the top 10 technology trends for 2017, IT research firm Gartner listed Zhizhen’s Xiaoi Robot, Siri, Cortana of Microsoft and Echo of Amazon as world leaders in intelligent conversational systems.

The technologies, known as bots, run automated tasks over the internet at speeds several times faster than humans.

The Xiaoi AI technology is now used by dozens of mainland Chinese clients including telecom, financial and retail firms.

“There are few artificial technologies that have already been commercialised,” said Yuan. “Xiaoi has proved to be a leader in the niche area.”

Admitting that language and cultural differences would be sticking points for Xiaoi to grow in markets outside the Chinese mainland, Yuan said the company had confidence in overcoming difficulties because the product has already secured business orders in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post, is a shareholder in Zhizhen.

The Shanghai-based company is listed on the New Third Board, a national over-the-counter equity trading system under the oversight of the China Securities Regulatory Commission.

Yuan said he would seek new investors who fully understand AI technology and its development trends in order to support Xiaoi’s further growth.

“AI will be a big topic for the entire human race, not just a single company,” he added.

Yuan also said that Xiaoi’s technology would be further developed for use in the fields of medical science and modern urban planning.

John Wu, chairman of venture capital group FengHe Fund Management, said China should focus on AI to help deal with its ageing population.

“Better use of robots and AI technology holds the key to buoyant growth in the Chinese economy in future. They are worth [putting in] massive investments,” he said.

Zhizhen initiated a legal challenge against Apple in June 2012, claiming that Siri violated the patent of its “Xiaoi Robot” software.

Apple won an appeal last year, with the Beijing Higher People’s Court overruling an earlier decision that had gone against the US technology firm.

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