Here’s a new startup likely to implode sooner or later: MiaMia, a service that aims to leverage computational linguistics, natural language processing, speech synthesis & recognition, automatic machine translation, semantic processing, and a wide range of other buzz words in order to provide users with a way to have simple questions answered by SMS or e-mail.
Hong-Kong-based MiaMia (short for “Mobile Intelligent Assistants”) is dubbed the ‘ultimate interface for mobile and internet users’ who want to receive relevant, compact answers to questions posed in their natural language, both spoken or per text message. In November, a new service will be added to the core offer called the MiaMia Email Secretary, which will enable users to dictate emails and email addresses, as well as retrieve emails and listen to emails read to the users.
Most of the answers to the questions that come in will be provided automatically by a host of servers, but fortunately human ‘knowledge assistants’ will be standing by to make sure you get the right response in seconds or minutes.
And here’s why it will most probably fail: it’s simply unscalable. Just reading this text on the MiaMia product pages makes me cringe:
That is why MiaMia® has decided to have all incoming spoken questions transcribed, in a few languages (including Chinese), by human transcribers, present in the MiaMia® call centers. Later, maybe in a few years from now, ASR will do the transcription job (based on the former logs in MiaMia® centers of all spoken-transcribed questions) mostly automatic. But for now, humans are still needed to accomplish that part of the job.
Here’s another interesting tidbit: one of the company’s founders is notorious in Belgium and in business circles worldwide. Jo Lernout is his name, and he was one of the founders of the infamous Lernout & Hauspie, a speech-recognition company established in the late eighties, which went public on NASDAQ in 1995, grew to a market cap of $10 billion and was ultimately the subject of a major fraud investigation started by a critical Wall Street Journal article, followed by a high-profile bankruptcy in 2001, an event that my home country is still licking its wounds about. The corporate scandal is often compared to the Enron affair.
Somehow, I think his latest venture holds no great future either.