The First Bot on Clubhouse Speaks Russian – Will the Voice Assistant’s Presence Change Social Audio Dynamics
The first voice assistant to debut on Clubhouse speaks Russian and answers to the name Oleg. Created by Russian financial giant Tinkoff Bank, Oleg’s speech recognition and AI-powered interactions broke new ground on the social audio platform this week as Tinkoff began implementing its ambitious plans for Oleg to become a room moderator and aide to Clubhouse users.
Oleg in Da House
Oleg’s account on Clubhouse enables the voice assistant to go into rooms and perform various secretarial tasks. The voice assistant is supposed to be capable of moderating discussions, presumably refreshing the room, and reminding people about time limits and any rules to the discussion. Oleg can transcribe the conversation in real-time as well, and Tinkoff has set up a Telegram channel for it to stream Clubhouse conversations to as text. Oleg’s first appearance on Clubhouse was to stream the audio conversation during a conference call about Tinkoff Investments on Thursday, but Tinkoff has plans to add and improve the voice assistant’s features.
“Our voice assistant team is currently experimenting with various user scenarios in Clubhouse to determine how room creators or listeners can benefit from our technologies,” Tinkoff director of AI Pavel Kalaidin said in a statement. “Oleg can also come in handy when listeners are unable to voice a question to speakers, for example when it is too noisy or they do not want to interrupt them. For such cases, we are designing an interface through which users can forward their questions to Oleg’s Telegram chat. Oleg will then voice the question with perfect pronunciation, keeping the user anonymous, if necessary. ”
Despite the fiscal origins, Oleg has been pitched as a lifestyle voice assistant from the beginning. Tinkoff Mobile subscribers can have Oleg answer the phone and even have limited conversations with callers. The AI’s portfolio expanded last year and now can help users budget, place insurance claims, and other financial tasks. The voice assistant is named for company founder Oleg Tinkoff, who resigned from the company board last spring, but is very active on Clubhouse himself. Oleg has a lot of competition from other Russian voice assistants like Yandex’s Alice, Mail.Ru’s Marusya, and the triple-voiced new AI from Sber. Oleg will likely leverage being on Clubhouse to stand out from those rivals.
“Our voice assistant team is currently experimenting with various user scenarios in Clubhouse to determine how room creators or listeners can benefit from our technologies,” Kalaidin said. “We are open to working with Clubhouse communities to make our voice assistant a useful tool for content makers and listeners.”
Unmentioned is the fact that Clubhouse officially doesn’t allow any brands to operate on the platform as brands rather than as individuals representing the companies. As app researcher and blogger Jane Manchun Wong has pointed out on Twitter, the brands proliferating on Clubhouse are against the community guidelines for the platform, which say that although “brands are welcome to create clubs and host conversations on Clubhouse, user accounts must represent individual people, rather than brands, brand mascots, or other non-person entities.” How that might be differently applied to an AI rather than a human acting as the voice of a brand isn’t clear. Clubhouse has yet to crack down on the brand accounts popping up and actually has set up a brand account of its own, which Wong dutifully reported for violating the terms of service.
Found a brand account on Clubhouse and reporting it for not representing a real person pic.twitter.com/CT1RavzMwf
— Jane Manchun Wong (@wongmjane) February 20, 2021
Voice AI and Social Audio
“Tinkoff’s Oleg is one of several Russian voice AI projects started after Yandex Alice. Their work on automatic speech recognition started in 2016 based on the relatively massive phone calls dataset available to Tinkoff Group,” Daniel Kornev, Chief Product Officer at Russian conversational AI startup DeepPavlov.ai told Voicebot. “Their solution is naturally optimized for call centers but is also generally available through the cloud offerings for Russian customers at costs lower than Yandex’s.”
“It is inevitable that voice assistants become active participants in social audio spaces. However, I suspect many Clubhouse users will have a strongly negative reaction to the introduction of Tinkoff’s Oleg voice assistant. Clubhouse’s culture and policies are focused on the participation of real people,” added Bret Kinsella, founder of Voicebot.ai. “Some of the negative Clubhouse user sentiment directed toward Oleg’s presence will be driven by different perceptions of what voice assistants can do and the role they will play. Many people think of all bots in a negative light. This position overlooks the fact that voice assistants could be truly helpful to social audio room hosts and moderators by adding features for better room management, participation, accessibility, and analytics.”
Kinsella added, “The voice assistant technology revolution in recent years means that social audio can immediately take advantage of these capabilities. Even if Clubhouse ultimately bans voice assistants, other social audio platforms are sure to allow them because of the benefits. It will lead to the need for new policies as well as user education but it is here nonetheless.”