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October 11, 2017

Russian search engine Yandex debuts its own voice assistant, Alice

by John_A

Why it matters to you

With some voice assistants limited in the languages it offers, Russia’s Yandex has decided to create its own.

The Russian search engine known as Yandex has officially launched Alice — its own voice assistant. Alice only speaks Russian, but is specifically built to interact with others, understand users’ requests, and provide answers to their questions.

Yandex has been around for quite some time — branching out into a real-time bidding platform, language translation, and even offering antivirus software. Now, it’s thrown Alice into the mix of capabilities.

To create its latest voice assistant, Yandex first released a beta version back in May to test out ideas and see how users responded. In addition, Alice is equipped with a neural network based “chat” engine to allow users to have conversations about any topic. Similar to Google Assistant — and now Siri — you can either speak to Alice verbally or type out your questions instead.

Alice is integrated into the Yandex search app, but it will only speak to you in Russian. Alice has been specifically trained to understand, listen, and speak to users through natural language. Even if you were to ask Alice, “What’s the weather like in Moscow, followed by “What about Peter?” — the voice assistant will automatically understand you mean St. Petersburg.

The voice assistant specifically uses speech recognition and synthesis capabilities from SpeechKit — Yandex’s toolkit used on products such as Navigator and Music. Since the Russian language is extremely complex when it comes to grammar and morphology, SpeechKit has been able to provide the best accuracy for Russian recognition.

To make sure Alice’s voice sounds as authentic and natural as possible, its voice was derived from the well-known film Her — by Spike Jonze. Yandex specifically used the recording actress who dubbed the voice of Samantha in the Russian language version of the film.

Alice is available for use in the Yandex search app — available for download on both iOS and Android. Aside from Alice, you can check the weather forecast and traffic, follow events in Russia or other countries, and receive email notifications. Even though Alice is only available in Russian, the app itself works in Ukrainian and Turkish as well.

The company also plans on releasing a beta version of Yandex Assistant for Windows. Alice will soon be released on the Yandex mobile browser and other Yandex products as well.

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