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A South Korean telco giant has its own A.I. chatbot — and says it's a 'super app' version of ChatGPT

SK Telecom’s “A.” (pronounced “A dot”) artificial intelligence chatbot has a character that speaks to people. The company has integrated its various service from music streaming to e-commerce into A. and is planning to launch it fully in 2023.

BARCELONA, Spain — SK Telecom, one of South Korea’s biggest carriers, is planning to fully launch its own artificial intelligence chatbot, but is looking at a very different product from ChatGPT, an executive working on the project told CNBC.

The company launched a beta version of “A.” — pronounced “A dot” — in South Korea in May last year. It is based on generative AI, the technology behind OpenAI’s viral ChatGPT.

Eric Davis, vice president at SKT who is leading the work on A., said that the company will launch a full version in South Korea this year, adding that this proposition is very different from ChatGPT.

“It’s like you’re chatting with a friend, where you’re solving issues that you encounter in your daily life,” Davis told CNBC on Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Davis said that SKT has been working on A. for a year and a half. It is is built in-house at the telecoms firm on so-called large language models — AI trained on huge amounts of data to be able to chat in natural language. It is the same technology as the one behind ChatGPT.

But Davis is keen to position A. as a very different product from ChatGPT. That’s because SKT also owns various services, ranging from music streaming to e-commerce and payment apps, which it is integrating into its chatbot.

“So, largely, the super app is the end picture there. Download our app, and we’ll do basically everything you want us to do and more,” Davis said.

A “super app” is a concept pioneered by Chinese technology giants, such as Tencent with its WeChat messaging service. The idea is that a person only needs one app, and that several third-party services are accessible via that app. In China, WeChat can be used for everything from booking holidays to payments.

Super apps are popular in China and in parts of Asia, but haven’t taken off in Europe and in the U.S.

What is a super app, and why haven't they gone global?

Davis, who previously worked on Apple’s voice assistant Siri, said that the plan is to integrate “a lot more third party services” into the A. chatbot.

“ChatGPT is great. You know, it answers your questions, or it provides a summary. But it doesn’t do any things we did in A., “Davis said. “It doesn’t connect you with services or out, it doesn’t have any personalization, we make a conscious effort to learn about our users.”

A. is currently only available in Korean. Davis said that SKT is in the early stages of exploring an international launch for the service.

“We’ve been talking to people in Europe, of course in Southeast Asia, local people that know the markets and know sort of what’s going to sell. So we’ve been having talks, but again, nothing’s really finalized,” Davis said.

SKT has looked to diversify beyond its core telecommunications business. It plans to launch a flying taxi service in 2025, and CNBC reported this week that the company’s AI chip spin-off Sapeon seeks a $400 million valuation.

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