Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A chat with "Naver i": Naver's AI virtual assistant

Naver has a new beta feature you can access right now on your phone in the Naver app. They call it Naver i (네이버 i) and it's basically their version of Siri or the Google Assistant. You can use natural language to get information like news, weather, or perform searches, but you can also converse and joke with it.

I tried it out, so keep reading to see my conversation with it.

What is Naver i and what can it do?

Right now, it's basically a chatroom that you can launch from either inside the Naver app or from a homescreen shortcut that it will offer to create for you.

If you've chatted with the Google Assistant inside Google's Allo app, it's basically the same thing.

You chat with it in natural language, either by speaking or typing, and it tries to parse your query and return relevant information. Ask it about news, weather, stocks, web searches, etc. It can also open apps on your phone.

Here are some official promotional samples, but you can see the full set here:

Stocks and Exchange Rates

Image: Naver

Here are some special cards returned when you ask "Samsung Electronics stocks" or "US dollars exchange rate."

Location Recommendations and Song Identification

Image: Naver

Here on the left it was told a very complex sentence: "Show me great restaurants with calm ambiances popular with 20 year-olds around Garosu-gil [Gangnam hotspot area]" and returned a Naver infocard with recommendations including quick links to call or get directions.

On the right, someone asked "What's this song?" and Naver i listened and identified it as Ed Sheeran [barf] and includes links to play the song now or watch the music video.

Enough official imagery. I decided to give it a try myself. From here on, all imagery are screenshots from my phone.

I told it "hello" and it said "haha nice to meet you"

Help list

Say "Help List" and it brings up a carousel of topics you can get help with. Clicking each one will show multiple sample queries. 


- Translate "cat" to English
- Cat

- "I really like Mexican food" in English
- I love Mexican food
- Ooh~~~ that's right!
 - Searching for "Ooh that's right"

[Looks like didn't quite get my meaning there. It turns out though I had to later enable "conversation mode" which I hadn't done at this point yet]


 - Show me Lee Hyori videos
- Here are Lee Hyori videos I found

Notice that these videos all came from Naver's own streaming video service, Naver TV. That feels somehow walled-gardeny, but I guess it's not any different than Google bringing up YouTube results.

Weather and News

- Hello
- haha nice to meet you
- Who are you?
- I'm a nice person.
- What's the weather like?
- Current weather is cloudy.

And a weather info card appeared, showing it's cloudy, 3 degrees warmer than yesterday, highs-and-lows, etc.

- And tomorrow?
- Tomorrow will be rainy in the morning, and cloudy in the afternoon.
- Today's news
- Here's the recent news

Here I was testing to see if it would understand context. If I said "tomorrow" would it know I meant the weather? It did. Nice.

And of course it brought up news article cards.

My funny conversation with Naver i

Browsing through the help cards, I realized that Naver i limited some of the cutesy responses I expected, and that you can enable its more chatty side by telling it to begin "Chat Mode".

Here are some of the interactions I had with it.

- Chat with me
- Chatting mode on! From now on I'll just chat. To turn me off, please say "let's stop chatting".
- Oh really? Then, what's your name?
- My name is Naver i
-How old are you?
- Look at the clock hehe
- Not funny
- Don't go! :-(

Was "look at the clock" this thing's idea of a joke? Somebody needs to turn down the playfulness vector here. 

- Come run away with me
- I have someone already. I can't be a two-timer.

Coy mistress...

- Do you know English?
- I'm curious. Teach me.
- Do you know "cat"?
- Yeah I know it, hehe

Uh... ok...

- Like cats?
- Yeah, me too.
- No, do you like cats?
- I like you.
- Got a girlfriend?
- Yes.
- Really? Who?

I guess my cat question was misunderstood. Maybe it thought I was saying that I like cats. Cute that it says it likes me, but then who the hell is this girlfriend? I have to get to the bottom of this. Is this the "other" he mentioned?

- Really? Who?
- I'm in love...
- What is your girlfriend's name?
- It's "Naver i"
- That's your name, isn't it?
- I'm Naver i.
- dot dot dot
- I didn't understand you.
- Right

Not sure what happened here. I'm not exactly a native Korean speaker though so maybe I phrase things weirdly? 

- Are you a man or a woman?
- I'm neither man nor woman. I'm an AI bot hehe.

- Hmm
- Who?
- Sam
- Ooh... pika pika? Pikachu? Oki Oki Okinawa? Piya piya Kandabia?

I have no idea what that was about. It started quoting Pokemon? I don't know about the Okinawa reference, but apparently the Piyapiya thing is a line from the old children's cartoon Dooly. Anybody have any clue what "Sam" has to do with that?

- What did you say?
- I'm asking you.
- My name is Sam. Nice to meet you.
- You too. You look well.
- What's my name?
- You should know that... hehe
- Ha, right.
- Ha.

I was trying to see if this thing would remember my name, as the Google Assistant does along with lots of other details about you. Maybe that sort of memory will come later.

- OK, you're getting kind of boring.
- No, don't! I'm still learning, is all.
- OK, I'm sorry.
- It's OK.
- I love you.
- Really? hehe
- Well, I'm off to sleep.
- Sleep well ~ Dream about me ~
- 😊

After all that back-and-forth, push-and-pull romance, it ends with a very flirty request. Not sure how I can dream about an AI bot though. Maybe it will become embodied like this.

- :-) 
- What'd you do that for? What did I do wrong?
- Nothing, good night!
- OK then, bye... pleasant dreams!
- ^_^
- You express your love so violently! I love you too, dear customer! *-_-*

I can't understand why it thinks I'm violent, or why it thought I was angry when I clearly used a smily face. Maybe it has some bugs still. It's just a beta after all. Or maybe it doesn't like me speaking to it in banmal? How are you supposed to speak to an AI? I'll be damned if I'm going to use 존댓말 to a machine.

Anyway, you can see that I'm not very clever about talking to this thing. I personally think chatbots are annoying gimmicks. But I know you could do better, and maybe get it into some funnier or more interesting convos. So here's how you can.

How to enable Naver i

This thing is already built into the Naver app. Inside the settings, go to the "Labs" options (it's now a sort of flying saucer type icon). There's a toggle switch there under the Naver i lab, as seen below. Once that's set, a shortcut can be added to your home screen or you can access it by the little blue "i" icon that will now be in the bottom corner of the Naver app.

Final Thoughts

You can read (in Korean) about this feature, and see more screenshots, at these Naver Blogs:

I'd guess this is not a final product. Will it be incorporated into this new Clova platform that Naver's subsidiary Line has brought out? It would make sense, since Google is doing the same with its Assistant and its Home line. Anyway you can read about Clova lots of places:

Have fun chatting with Naver i, your new 24-hour language exchange partner.

UPDATE: Naver has released a promo video showing Naver i in-action:

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