Comcast’s vice president of AI product, Jeanine Heck, spoke with TechRepublic’s Tonya Hall about the success of an AI voice remote product, integrated with deep learning. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Hall: So, what is your role entail, exactly?
Heck: My role is really to be a product manager, and that entails working with the engineering team to ensure that we’re building products that are valuable to our customers, and so it’s important for me in my role to understand the customers needs, how they use our products today, how they may want to use our products tomorrow, and also making sure that the products are very competitive in the marketplace. So I’m looking at all of that and interpreting it for our engineering teams so that we can prioritize our engineering work according to what will meet the customer needs the best.
Hall: How have you deployed machine learning and artificial intelligence throughout Comcast?
Heck: Well, in many ways, actually. But I would say the most exciting one has been our voice remote. So we are using our own artificial intelligence on the remote to do voice recognition and natural image processing. And then we have also used deep learning in the past few years to really enhance the accuracy of our voice remote results, and it’s taken them to a whole different level of accuracy, because of what you can do with deep learning.
Hall: Now, your voice remote, is that called X1?
Heck: Yes, our TV platform, our entertainment platform, is called X1, and the voice remote is called X1 voice remote.
Hall: What makes it so special?
Heck: It flattens the UI, kind of the way we express the benefit. It’s one button. It can do everything on the TV. So you don’t really need to know any other tricks, except press the button and say what you want. And our engineering team has spent years developing the natural-language processing components so that it really can understand what your intent is, and you don’t have to now punch around in the guide if you know exactly what you want. It can take you directly there without a lot of button pressing or jumping through a bunch of screens.
Hall: What kind of problems were you trying to solve, or what kind of enhanced experience were you trying to deliver?
Heck: Well, when we set out, we really thought we were building a better way to find a movie or a show when you knew exactly what the program is. And that’s still really the top benefit that we can give. So if you know that you want to watch Modern Family, you say “Modern Family,” and it takes you directly there. Or if you know you want to watch comedies on HBO, you can say, “comedies on HBO,” and it takes you directly there.
One of the things we’ve actually been surprised about though, that we didn’t set out to do, is the ability to change channels just by saying the name. That was something we weren’t really sure about until we put it in front of customers in trials, and we saw that when people said, “CNN,” they wanted the channel to change right to CNN. It’s actually become one of our biggest-use cases, and I think those two problems, not needing to remember channel numbers, and not needing to go punch in letter-by-letter the name of a show on a keyboard on the TV, those two problems being solved are probably the biggest things that we’ve accomplished with the voice remote. I’ve been working in the TV industry for a long time, and especially on the content discovery side of the house. Those are problems that existed in the guide, for as we’ve been making guides, and the voice remote really solves those problems and helps people get their content more quickly. It’s kind of just a huge leap ahead from where we were.
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