Yandex company blog

Say “Privet” to Alice, Yandex’s Intelligent Assistant

10 October, 10:00

Today we are excited to officially introduce the world to a new AI assistant, Alice. Alice speaks excellent Russian and integrates multiple services in one centralized tool.  Built to authentically interact with people as they go about their day, Alice understands users’ natural language requests and provides contextually relevant answers. 

Alice helps users to easily and efficiently navigate their lives in a variety of ways by planning routes to destinations, providing weather forecasts, and sharing the latest news, among a number of other useful tasks. In addition to providing users with a wealth of online information through Yandex search, Alice integrates our services such as Weather, News, Maps, Transport, and Music, offering a centralized and fluid experience to assist users with their day.  For instance, to find a restaurant nearby, one can simply ask for “a dinner place nearby” - and to get directions to the suggested restaurant, they can add, “how do I walk over there?”

In developing Alice, we utilized our knowledge of the more than 50 million monthly users who interact with Yandex services.  Coupling our machine learning capabilities and 20 years of experience with Russian users and Russian language, we started experimenting with a personal assistant to specifically serve the needs of Russian users. We released a beta version of Alice in May 2017 to further test our ideas and understand how users could benefit from using Alicе.  Recently, we added a neural network based “chit-chat” engine to Alice that allows users to have free-flowing conversations about anything. It is a unique feature that our users find surprisingly delightful and different from other major voice assistants.  

Using web-scale datasets and deep neural networks, we trained Alice to listen, understand, and speak to users using natural language.  As a result, it provides an authentic and human-like personal assistant experience.  For instance, when a user asks Alice, “What’s the weather in Moscow?” and then follows with a question in slang asking, “And what about Peter?” Alice understands the intent and provides the weather forecast for St. Petersburg. 

Alice leverages speech recognition and synthesis capabilities of SpeechKit, Yandex’s world-class toolkit that is used across many of our products, from Navigator to Music. Speech recognition is especially challenging for the Russian language due to its grammatical and morphological complexities.   According to word error rate (WER) measurements, SpeechKit provides world-best accuracy for spoken Russian recognition, enabling Alice to understand speech with a near human-level accuracy.  

SpeechKit’s text-to-speech (TTS) technologies utilize multiple machine learning methods, such as neural networks and gradient boosting, to synthesize responses that sound natural and authentic. In addition to authentic responses, users who are fans of Spike Jonze’ film Her will recognize that Alice’s voice is derived from Tatyana Shitova, the recording actress who dubbed the voice of Samantha in the Russian language version. 

Smartphone users can now use Alice in the Yandex search application for iOS and Android and in a beta version of Yandex Assistant for Windows.  Alice will also soon be integrated into Yandex.Browser, followed by other Yandex products. Thanks to users for choosing our intelligent assistant, and even helping us name it.   Welcome to the world, Alice – we look forward to talking to you!