Voysis, a startup whose artificial intelligence platform enables voice shopping directly with e-commerce sites, has raised $8 million in a Polaris Partners-led Series A funding to finance its expansion and further its technology development.
Voysis said that what differentiates its platform from voice-driven assistants is that it integrates with the customer-facing app or website of a retailer or product brand. The company was founded by CEO Peter Cahill, a Ph.D. who has dedicated 15 years to speech technology and neural network research, to enable third party enterprises — including retailers, but also firms across several other industries — to rapidly generate intelligent voice systems with real utility and purpose.
Voysis also claims to be one of just a few companies that has built a voice AI platform from the ground up, with a proprietary deep learning engine designed for speech and natural language processing. It also said it would allow retailers and other third-party partners to fully control how the software and generated data is used.
A tiny startup moving into the same arena in which the likes of Amazon's Alexa, IBM's Watson, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana are doing battle doesn't sound all that promising. However, Voysis is offering a new twist on interactive AI solutions that is a pretty logical jump from where voice-driven AI stands today in the form of those virtual assistants. That jump: Cutting out the middleman and using AI to interact directly with brand and retail websites, rather than having a virtual assistant or bot act on your behalf.
Though Voysis might not be able to compete on par with the likes of Amazon or IBM, its approach to voice-activated shopping directly with e-commerce sites should resonate pretty well with any retailer or brand that might fear it's losing competitive ground to Amazon as Alexa's shopping skills have evolved. And, as Voysis chief Cahill pointed out to Fortune, a company like Amazon is "not really trying to provide a platform to enable third-party companies to have their own assistant.” (Although IBM is doing that with Watson.)
It also should be pretty easy for consumers to become comfortable with Voysis' approach. Consumers are becoming comfortable talking to virtual assistants and texting with chatbots, and voice-driven product search is even beginning to have its day. Talking directly to a brand might further give them a feeling of empowerment they just don't get when they turn the shopping over to Alexa.
It will be interesting to see how quickly Voysis can ramp up and get noticed in a sector in which practically any retailer you can think of already is exploring AI technology in some form. What Voysis is doing really does look like the future of AI for retail shopping purposes. Don't start betting on the demise of virtual assistants just yet, but they may have taught us enough about talking to machines that we are ready to take the conversation to the next level.