This article is an edited crosspost from the MIT Technology Review Arab Edition.
Perhaps Mary Shelley’s classic novel is telling in more ways than we thought. Though Frankenstein was able to bestow life to a lifeless body, his monster, fully grown with an eight-foot high frame, could not muster any words, nor could it understand speech. Almost two hundred years later, in trying to create a seemingly sentient personal assistant, Google, Apple, and tardy Microsoft are trying to perfect speech recognition. Particularly telling of their intent is the fact that Apple and Microsoft have dubbed their creations with human names.
Over in the Middle East, Votek, a software company that specialized in developing solutions based on Arabic speech recognition, has invested its learnings into Loujee, a smart educational toy. Founded in 2014 by a 33-year old Syrian practicing dentist, Lojain Jibawi, and a 29-year old engineer from Tunisia, Sawsan Saeed, Loujee is their first foray into consumer products.
Loujee has all the seemings of a typical cuddly plush toy – brightly colored, furry, lop-eared, and in endearing proportions. But unlike the majority of its kin, Loujee is able to converse.