Korea Times

Bilingual AI toy to debut in South Korea

But IBM and Korean tech firm won’t confirm whether a prototype has already been made

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 11:47am

By Kim Tae-gyu

Korean children will be able to play with internet-connected smart toys, which will be able to have interactive conversations in Korean, in the not-so-distant future.

South Korean IT firm SK C&C and IBM have joined hands to capitalise on a variety of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, which include a toy powered by the super computing system IBM Watson.

The robot is expected to speak both English and Korean. For example, it can read an English-language book so that the two can talk about the book later in Korean. Or, they can just chat like friends.

Some believe that the two companies already created a prototype to test the bilingual miniature robot but SK C&C refused to confirm this, just saying “We have carried out various joint projects with IBM.”

An IBM Korea official also did not comment.

It is not known when the model will hit the market and how much it would cost but an SK C&C official dropped a hint, “Watson is currently learning Korean. As far as I know, the study will continue to next year.”

Watson is not as versed in Korean compared to its mother tongue of English.

Watson is a computer system, which can answer questions asked in natural language. As the brainchild of IBM, it is named after the company’s first CEO, Thomas Watson.

The smart system was especially designed to answer questions based on the popular US quiz show Jeopardy and in 2011, it defeated human champions in a three-way competition.

Its first commercial application was in the medical field as IBM Watson for Oncology helps doctors treat patients who suffer from such serious diseases as cancer.

Korea’s Gachon University Gil medical Centrw west of Seoul planned to adopt the advanced system for cancer patients this month after signing a contract with IBM last month.

But the Incheon-based hospital postponed the timeframe to next month since it failed to wrap up the preparation of its hospital space exclusively for the expensive supercomputer.

AI-based educational companions are already available in overseas markets as US startup Elemental Path came up with the CogniToys lines, which are backed by Watson.

Its models can answer questions, tell stories, practice spelling and play games without the need for a screen. Another advantage is that they get sophisticated through automatic content update.

The CogniToy should be linked to the web via Wi-Fi or other mobile networks. Its settings can also be customised to allow kids to only use specific features.