BEIJING -- China's iFlytek has tongues wagging worldwide with its voice-recognition software prowess, nearing the top of a noted university's ranking of "smart" companies and forming tie-ups with the likes of U.S. tech titans IBM and Intel.
The speech technology provider was No. 6 in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Smartest Companies 2017" list released in June, beating out even powerhouse IT compatriots Tencent Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu. In 2016, it reaped a net profit of 484.4 million yuan ($72 million at current rates), with sales of 3.32 billion yuan.
Chairman Liu Qingfeng, who took doctorate studies at the University of Science and Technology of China, founded iFlytek in 1999 at age 26, aiming to outdo even U.S. voice-recognition leaders like IBM and Microsoft.
Beginning in his student days, Liu had earned prominence as a voice-recognition researcher. His young company formed a tie-up with Huawei Technologies in 2000, won funding a year later from the investment arm of computer giant Lenovo Group, and has grown steadily since.
In recent years, the company has used techniques such as big-data analysis and so-called deep learning to drastically improve the accuracy of voice recognition. It secured
first place at an international competition for speech-based translation technology, and its technology has been featured in major Chinese financial institutions' voice services.
iFlytek has drawn eyes abroad as well, partnering with its long-time competitor IBM and cooperating with chipmaker Intel on deep-learning research. It is also jointly developing "smart" car technology with Chongqing Changan Automobile, and has formed strategic partnerships with the likes of telecom China Mobile and e-commerce company JD.com.
Liu believes that within a decade, AI will be a daily necessity just like water or electricity, and he is putting his expertise into the technology. He is also building a cooperative relationship with the government, such as by serving as a delegate to the National People's Congress. Liu also recently established an AI industrial alliance with parties including China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as well as Intel.