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Technology

China's iFlytek claims breakthrough in AI-powered voice recognition

Startup aims to put technology to use fighting phone scams in 2-3 years

iFlytek's research center in X'ian, where the deputy chief spoke with reporters. (Photo by Shunsuke Tabeta)

XI'AN, China -- Chinese artificial intelligence startup iFlytek says it has developed AI-powered technology that can accurately identify a person by his or her voice, for use in law enforcement.

The company expects to be able to roll out a voiceprint recognition system nationwide in two to three years, said Fu Zhonghua, the deputy head of iFlytek's research center here.

The Chinese market for such technology has the prospect of becoming a driver of earnings growth for iFlytek, which has been hit with U.S. sanctions for its alleged role in China's internationally criticized treatment of Muslim minorities.

"Because recordings are important evidence when it comes to phone scams, demand for voice recognition is growing," Fu told reporters at the lab.

The voiceprint recognition tool harnesses iFlytek's strength in using AI to analyze data. Big data is crunched to add a layer to existing voice identification technology, raising the level of accuracy, according to the company.

The tool's primary uses are in law enforcement and phone monitoring, Fu said. A system that detects suspected scammers' voiceprints and automatically hangs up the phone has been undergoing trials in some parts of China since 2018. In two to three years, it should achieve nationwide scale, Fu said.

The technology could have broader uses, in such areas as finance. State-owned China Construction Bank has introduced voiceprints as a second customer verification factor beside passwords.

The startup forms part of the vanguard of China's state-led AI development program. It received 276 million yuan ($39.4 million) in government subsidies in 2018, the equivalent of about 3% of its revenue.

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