With over 22 million subscribers, KT is the leading mobile operator in South Korea. The company offers a wide variety of services to consumers that include the smart voice assistant Giga Genie, KT Skylife, and Genie Music.
KT is a member of the Voice Interoperability Initiative – a consortium of over 90 members that have come together to enable customers with the freedom to choose their preferred service for any task. VII delivers this experience through multiple, simultaneously available voice services on the same product, each with its own ‘wake word’ or invocation name.
In 2021, KT added Alexa to GiGA Genie 3 smart speaker devices in South Korea. With the announcement, Korean consumers will now be able to speak in both Korean and English to the agent of their choice: Alexa in English and Giga Genie in Korean.
Junki Choi is the head of the AI and big data organizations for KT. For the last six years, Choi has helped spearhead important initiatives including the GiGA Genie speaker and KT’s AI powered call centers. In this interview, Choi talks about the VII, how having multiple agents on the same device gives KT a competitive advantage, and his vision for the future of voice.
Why did KT join the Voice Interoperability Initiative?
As you might know, with over 3 million speakers, our GiGA Genie speakers are the market leader in South Korea. We were the first to bring Voice AI to the Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) set top box in Korea, and have maintained our leadership by constantly iterating and innovating based on customer feedback.
We have consistently heard from our customers that they love the variety of tasks that they can accomplish with our smart speaker. They’ve been telling us that they value this diversity of experiences enabled by GiGA Genie.
By joining the Voice Interoperability Initiative, we were able to leverage resources to develop experiences that offer customers multiple agents on the same device. Simply put, we were hearing from our customers that they value choice, and the VII allows us to offer even more choice to customers. Joining the initiative was an absolute no brainer for KT.
How does having bilingual agents on the same device give KT a competitive advantage?
There are many parents in South Korea who are very interested in making sure that their children are fluent in English as well as Korean. They spend a lot of money and effort on improving their children’s English level skills. However, their children don’t get the opportunity to actually use English in their day-to-day lives. To state the obvious, being able to converse naturally in any language is critical to being able to establish fluency in that language.
Here’s where Alexa comes in: the state-of-the-art conversational AI allows customers to converse naturally in English. As a result, we are focused on enabling skills and utterances that can help students and business people interested in learning English.
The response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Our customers tell us that they like having the option of interacting with multiple agents on the same device. That said, there remains work to be done on an ongoing basis: to keep innovating with providing customers with meaningful experiences that allow them to harness the power of multiple agents, and also to coach them on how to interact with two agents on the same device.
Can you speak to the future of voice? What new experiences do you see voice shaping?
We often hear about how voice and ambient computing will shape the future of technology. However, these technologies are both very real and very present in Korea as of today. To give just one example, GiGA Genie customers are very accustomed to using their voice to turn on the TV and search for video-on-demand (VOD) content. It is also common for people to use voice to use our smart assistants to do things like make calls and send text messages.
As customer adoption of voice grows increases even further, we expect that device makers and service providers will develop more experiences that enable customers to communicate more freely and naturally across a wider spectrum of experiences.
The scope of these experiences will also be broadened by the developments in the field of artificial intelligence in general. I am particularly excited by advancements that will allow smart agents to communicate with consumers in even more emotionally intelligent ways.
People are aware that agents powered by artificial intelligence are not human – but they still interact with them as though they were humans. Emotionally intelligent smart agents will become especially important in use cases related to children, care for the elderly, or simply working with people that might have unique needs.