Speaktoit, the Russian startup behind Speaktoit Assistant, a Siri alternative for Android, iOS and Windows Phone that also competes with a host of other AI and natural language-driven ‘personal assistants’, has raised a new round of funding. The amount remains undisclosed, but once again Intel Capital, the chip maker’s venture and M&A arm, is investing, along with new investor Alpine Electronics through its Alpine Technology Fund. Two strategic investors is better than one, I guess.
More noteworthy, however, especially in light of Google picking up AI startup DeepMind for a reportedly cool $500 million+, is that Speaktoit says the new capital will be used to accelerate the development of its platform for allowing clients to add natural language virtual assistant capabilities to applications, gadgets, cars, robots, and wearable technology. Those are, without exception, all areas that Mountain View is busy plotting its future.
It’s also more evidence that Artificial Intelligence, in the loosest sense, is heating up again. Could this be a long hot summer before another AI winter? It seems unlikely but it wouldn’t be the first time.
Speaktoit claims 10 million downloads to date, making it Android’s top-rated virtual assistant app, apparently. Like its competitors, including TechCrunch Disrupt finalist Maluuba, the app attempts to understand questions and voice commands using natural language processing to perform various tasks, such as setting a calendar reminder, composing a text message or email, updating Twitter or Facebook, opening an app or website, searching for directions, and so on.
In January last year, it introduced a premium version of Speaktoit Assistant that added the ability to change the list of ‘trigger’ phrases and customise how the app responds, essentially letting you teach it new commands.
In a canned statement, Ilya Gelfenbeyn, CEO of Speaktoit, talks up the pairing of its two strategic investors and Speaktoit’s cross-platform, cross-device future: “What has begun with smartphones over the past three years will soon touch many areas of our lives, including our cars and our homes. Intel Capital and Alpine Technology Fund are the perfect partners for Speaktoit’s continued technological advancements in human-computer interaction technology,” he says.
It’s hard to argue with that. And, certainly, a voice-driven natural language UI seems better placed in cars, “robots”, and wearables, where hands-free operation is almost mandatory, than a smartphone where typing and swiping, in most use-cases, works just fine.