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SKT unveils voice-controlled AI service

SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile carrier, unveiled an artificial intelligence service based on voice recognition technology Wednesday, saying it will be the starting point to the popularization of AI which will lead the fundamental changes in the daily lives of humans.

“The input system evolved from keyboard to mouse and then to touchpad,” said Park Il-hwan, head of device supporting division of the company. “Starting with NUGU (meaning who in Korean), we will lead dramatic changes in our daily lives created by voice recognition and artificial intelligence and the popularization of artificial intelligence.” 

SK Telecom unveils NUGU, equipped with a voice-controlled service on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
SK Telecom unveils NUGU, equipped with a voice-controlled service on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

The company also introduced a 21.2 centimeter tall cylindrical device that will implement the artificial intelligence service, which also act as a speaker and an LED lamp.

Global tech companies have already introduced voice-activated services in recent years. Amazon.com introduced Echo, a voice control enabled speaker, and Microsoft Cortana, an intelligent personal assistant. NUGU is the first artificial intelligence service that can understand and process the national language in Korean, SKT officials said.

SK’s new AI service can deal with natural language questions such as “please tell me tomorrow’s weather” or “play some happy music” rather than just short keywords.

NUGU will be available from Thursday with a price tag of 99,000 won ($88.69), a 60 percent discount from the original price of 249,000 won. The company aims to expand its customer base first by attracting early adopters. “As more customers start using the AI service, NUGU will be able to evolve fast through cloud-based deep learning and improve the accuracy of voice recognition,” the telecom company said at the press conference. The AI service will be updated over-the-air on a weekly basis, the company said.

As early as the first half of the next year, the company will open its Application Programming Interface of NUGU to third party developers and customers in order to develop artificial intelligence platforms together.

Initially, the voice-activated AI will provide music recommendations and playback, remote controlling home appliance, real-time weather and traffic information and other personal assistance services. The service will be gradually expanded to other areas such e-commerce and personal media, the company said.

By Park Ga-young (gypark@hearldcorp.com)
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