PolyAI has raised £35 million to develop ‘superhuman’ voice assistants.

Nikola Mrkšić, Tsung-Hsien Wen and Pei-Hao Su founded the business to develop assistants that would not only understand what callers were saying, but would actually be pleasant for people to talk to.

Its voice assistants are now answering calls for the likes of FedEx, Marriott hotels and Whitbread PLC. 

“In 2014, academics were saying the problem of speech recognition was ‘solved’. The technology had reached ‘human-level performance’ – meaning it was about as good as it could get,” said Mrkšić.

“But it still wasn’t good enough to understand what people were saying in the real world, especially over noisy phone lines.

“Many people have become used to the narrow capabilities of voice technology. We hear that we’re speaking to a bot, and we speak back in a robotic way.

“At PolyAI, we’ve found that the better our voice assistants understand callers, the more callers become open to speaking more naturally. And the more naturally callers speak, the better our voice assistants are able to solve their problems.”

You can listen to one of its voice assistants in action below.

The Series B funding round was led by Georgian with participation from Twilio Ventures as well as existing investors Khosla Ventures, Point72 Ventures and Amadeus Capital Partners.

The company says its voice assistants can carry on a conversation for as long as it takes to solve a customer’s query, while callers are free to deviate from standard customer journeys or change their minds halfway through the conversation.

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“We believe that every customer deserves the best, which is why our voice assistants measure satisfaction throughout every call, and hand off at any sign of trouble,” added Mrkšić. “In this way, we build trust with the caller and ensure that they don’t feel like they are stuck in a self-service labyrinth.”

The company has experienced 5X growth this year alone and now has more than 100 employees having opened offices in New York and California in addition to its home base in London. 

“We’re working with more and more exciting companies in retail, financial services, hospitality and healthcare,” said Mrkšić.

“We’re on a mission to make enterprise voice assistants that customers love. The days of shouting ‘AGENT!’ to a robotic IVR are nearly over.”

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