VocalIQ builds speech-processing technology. Its software is designed to facilitate more natural communication between humans and computers, as explained by sources close to the deal.
In a blog post from the company, VocalIQ explains how the challenge of the Internet of Things is in combining human and artificial intelligence to create a continuous stream of new knowledge. It believes we need more than automated speech recognition (ASR) to improve the conversation between people and machines.
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"What we need is framework for a real dialog, a conversation," wrote officials, "where it's not just us humans doing the talking, but the machines [things] talk to us if and when they have something important to say. And they will. Lots. What we need is Machine Initiated Dialog."
With the power of machine learning, VocalIQ is attempting to create the type of virtual assistant we have only seen in movies like Her. Such a tool could enhance Apple's Siri or become part of Apple's automobile project.
Modern navigation systems have the ability to display real-time traffic data inside the vehicle, VocalIQ explains, but drivers are restricted in navigating them. A vocal dialog system could help by enabling the driver to chat with a machine and receive directions while paying attention to the road.
VocalIQ recognizes the growing competition for the voice user experience (UX) among today's tech giants. Siri is already in direct competition with Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa, and Google Now for the top virtual assistant.
Despite the billions of dollars being invested in these services, the startup claims all of them "fell well short of consumer expectations" and dismisses Siri as a "toy."
Most modern digital assistants can better understand human vocabulary, the blog post continues, but have little understanding of the context of those words. Companies such as Apple and Google are stuck in a "medieval" approach to conversation because they continue to use "pre-programmed, flow-chart based response that don't learn."
VocalIQ claims the most successful assistant will be a self-learning multi-domain system that can hold a conversation with people about hotel bookings, movies, restaurants, and music. Perhaps it will help Apple create such an assistant in Siri.
In a statement confirming the deal to the Financial Times, Apple officials gave their usual response: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans."