SINGAPORE: Singapore’s efforts to grow its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities are bearing fruit, with global travel giant Expedia Group the latest to announce a partnership with AI Singapore (AISG) to develop a more accurate search engine for Asian languages like Japanese.
Both parties will work to develop an AI tool for Expedia's online properties to transform the online search experience for Asian travellers, according to a joint press release on Monday (Sep 9).
Mr Laurence Liew, director of AI Industry Innovation at AISG, told CNA in an email that it is pumping S$180,000 into the project and will assemble an engineering team that is staffed by full-time mentors, project managers and apprentices from its AI Apprenticeship Programme.
On its end, Expedia will match AISG’s funding through cash and in-kind manpower and resource contributions, said its senior director for Product and Technology Kevin Ng.
Mr Ng, in an email reply, shared that travel searches on their platforms do not always give accurate returns with native Asian languages and, in particular, Japanese.
“While the accuracy of English search results is near perfect, travel searches conducted in the Japanese language yield accurate results only about more than half the time,” he explained.
This is why the project will look at using natural language processing and machine learning tools to develop an AI-based model to enhance the online search accuracy in Japanese, before extending it to the other languages like Korean, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese, the release said.
Explaining what could be the reason for the less-than-accurate returns on searches, AISG’s Mr Liew said Asian languages are “fundamentally different” from European languages. He said some Asian characters, for example, do not have spaces between words and it is a “significant challenge” to differentiate words without explicit word boundaries.
As such, part of the solution it is co-developing via its 100 Experiments (100E) programme would be to incorporate better pre-processing methods for word segmentation, he said, adding a minimum viable product is expected to be rolled out within nine months.
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“HUGE” MARKET POTENTIAL
The US travel giant would certainly benefit from making bigger inroads into the Japanese market.
Mr Ng, citing figures from Statista, said online travel spending is growing at a rapid pace and by 2020, the Asia-Pacific region will account for more than 40 per cent of global online travel sales, surpassing North America and Western Europe.
Given that Japan is one of the largest travel markets in Asia, by improving search accuracy and efficiency in the language “presents huge potential for (Expedia) to tap into this vast market”, the executive added.
AISG is a national programme set up to enhance Singapore’s AI capabilities and to power the country’s digital economy.
Its 100E programme, which matches companies keen to use AI with local researchers, has received strong industry interest and more than 300 companies have stated their interest since the launch in 2017. Of these, 40 projects have been approved, the press release said.