Translation made easy with iFlytek app

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Dubbed China’s version of Siri, iFlyTek was founded in 1999 in Hefei, Anhui and holds a 70 per cent share of the country’s voice recognition market. One of its most popular products is iFlytek Input, a speech-to-text conversion app launched in 2010.

HEFEI (Anhui) • If you do not speak Mandarin but find yourself in China, fear not. There is a Chinese app that can convert Mandarin speech into English text and vice versa.

Called iFlytek Input, this app was launched in 2010 by Anhui-based firm iFlytek, a rising star in China's artificial intelligence (AI) sector.

About 500 million people, mostly in China, use this app to convert what they say - in Mandarin or dialects, including Cantonese, Hokkien and Shanghainese - into text messages.

It claims up to 98 per cent accuracy in Chinese voice recognition, thanks to the 4.5 billion voice files it collects a day, said Mr Pan Shuai, a business manager at the firm.

The firm behind the app is iFlytek, founded in 1999 by Dr Liu Qingfeng, then a doctorate student, with five schoolmates at the University of Science and Technology of China based in Hefei, capital of eastern Anhui province. It was long before China had set out its ambitions to be a global leader in AI.

Today, the Shenzhen-listed iFlytek holds a 70 per cent share of China's voice-recognition market, making Anhui an unlikely front runner in AI technologies. It is worth US$14 billion (S$18.5 billion) and said to be the world's most valuable firm in the area of voice recognition.

About 300,000 apps employ iFlytek's technology, and it is applied in sectors including education, banking and healthcare. Said Mr Pan: "Ninety per cent of the commercial robots in Shenzhen, and millions of China-made cars, are using our technology. And many banks use our artificial intelligence technology in their smart call centres."

According to iFlytek's website, Singapore schools are using its products to help pupils learn Chinese.

Last year, it joined tech giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent as one of four technology firms selected by the Chinese government to spearhead AI development. China aims to create an AI industry worth one trillion yuan (S$206 billion) by 2030.

Beyond voice recognition, iFlytek has been investing in AI since 2010 in areas such as healthcare and smart city applications. In the first half of last year, it invested 511 million yuan in research and development.

"We are now developing a lung cancer diagnosis system that is not related to voice recognition. Once we make it into a mature commercial product, we can launch it anywhere in the world," said Mr Pan.

Chong Koh Ping

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline Translation made easy with iFlytek app. Subscribe