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Appliance makers, auto firms tap into chatbots

By Fan Feifei | | Updated: 2023-04-03 23:23
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Chinese home appliance manufacturers and automakers are ratcheting up efforts to integrate artificial intelligence-powered chatbots into their products and services, in the hope of providing a better human-machine interaction experience, as ChatGPT takes the world by storm and triggers a new AI wave due to its advanced conversational capabilities.

Industry experts said the application of chatbot-related and AI-generated content technologies is likely to bolster the intelligent transformation and upgrade of the traditional household appliance industry and serve as a new engine driving consumption recovery.

Midea Group, a Chinese home appliance maker based in Foshan, Guangdong province, is among the first team of partners for Ernie Bot, an AI chatbot launched in March by tech heavyweight Baidu Inc. Midea will bolster the upgrade of human-machine conversation abilities in the smart home sector through leveraging cutting-edge generative AI technology.

Midea said its smart home products and family service robots will have access to Baidu's Ernie Bot, which has showcased its capabilities in fields including literary creation, business writing, mathematical calculation and Chinese language understanding. The two companies will carry out in-depth cooperation in the research and development of AI and frontier technologies.

Hisense Visual Technology Co, a Qingdao, Shandong province-based home appliance company, has also joined the Ernie Bot ecosystem to integrate Baidu's intelligent conversational techno­logy into its televisions and large displays.

Similarly, Sichuan Changhong Electric Co is accelerating its steps to promote the application of Ernie Bot in its household appliances.

"The emergence of new AI technologies will better facilitate the conversational interaction between human beings and home appliance products. The collaboration between household appliance makers and conversational chatbot developers will speed up the digital and intelligent transformation of China's home appliance industry," said Liu Fei, research director of the consumer electronics department of All View Cloud, a Beijing-based market consultancy.

Liu said the iteration and upgrade of product functions and technologies will stimulate consumers' purchasing appetite, and create new revenue growth drivers for home appliance companies. The move also demonstrates the continuous exploration of large language models in the scenario of intelligent content production.

Data from All View Cloud showed that the revenue of China's home appliance sector totaled 708.1 billion yuan ($103.1 billion) in 2022, down 7.4 percent year-on-year.

Wang Hongji, general manager of the white goods department at research company China Market Monitor Co, said that smart home devices' voice interaction function will be further improved and popularized, thanks to the appearance of ChatGPT-like products or services, which are able to understand the user's intentions based on prompts, mimic humanlike responses and generate both text and voice content.

Leading Chinese technology companies such as Alibaba Group, JD, iFlytek and NetEase are seeking to develop Chinese-language alternatives to ChatGPT.

Comparable applications are expected to add value to electric and assisted-driving cars. Smart electric vehicle company Jidu Auto, a joint venture established by Baidu and carmaker Geely Holding Group, said it will integrate Ernie Bot into its cars to develop the world's first large language model-powered AI interactive experience for smart vehicles.

Chinese carmaker Changan launched its Yida sedan last month, which is the first mass-produced model in China to feature Ernie Bot. The Yida will improve users' interactive experience with the vehicle, Changan said. Other Chinese automakers such as Geely, Dongfeng Nissan and China FAW Group's Hongqi have also participated in the Ernie ecosystem.

Pan Helin, co-director of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center at Zhejiang University's International Business School, said that more efforts should be made to improve computing power, algorithms and quality of data.

Similarly, investment in basic scientific research, including mathematics, statistics and computer science, should be increased, given that Ernie Bot still has some deficiencies in its capabilities in terms of machine learning and natural language processing, Pan added.

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