Baidu has upgraded its mobile virtual assistant to incorporate voice-enabled local transactions. The virtual assistant, powered by artificial intelligence, is now known as “Duer.” That apparently translates as “Du Secretary.”
One translation of the word “du” I saw was “to study, to learn.” Phonetically, it also sounds like the English word “do,” as in to get things done.
Baidu launched its first virtual assistant in 2012 on the heels of Google Now. Baidu has invested heavily in AI research, which is at the core of the new assistant.
What’s new to the end user is the integration of local commerce and the ability to conduct transactions using Duer, such as food ordering and movie-ticket buying. Baidu will further expand these capabilities to a broad range of local “on-demand” services in the near future.
The new Baidu emphasis on local transactions, rather than knowledge retrieval (e.g., Wikipedia searches), was the original vision behind Siri before Apple bought the company.
The connection between speech-enabled (typically mobile) queries and task completion reflected in the evolution of Baidu’s assistant, Cortana, Siri and (to a lessser degree) Google Now and Amazon’s Alexa is very interesting. And while search technology is typically at the core of these virtual assistants, they also represent a kind of successor to conventional search.