In a country where just 10 per cent of its population speaks English out of 1.3 billion people. Users in India can now speak to Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa in Hindi to carry out tasks like checking cricket scores, requesting for songs and even asking how she’s doing.
Launched two years back in India in 2017, Alexa was able to understand and pronounce names of popular places, names and songs in regional languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Punjabi but supported commands only in English.
With the latest update, Alexa can now understand customers speaking to her completely in Hindi and Hinglish.
Alexa, which competes with digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant, is available across Amazon’s Echo range of devices as well as products from brands like Bose, MyBox, iBall and Syska.
“India has uniquely challenged our AI teams with its cultural and linguistic diversity. We have worked to ensure that customers can interact with Alexa in different regional variants of colloquial Hindi,” Amazon Vice President and Head Scientist, Alexa AI, Rohit Prasad told reporters here.
He added that along with Amazon’s own team, many Indian users contributed to Hindi development through the Cleo skill on Alexa.
Prasad said Alexa already has 500 “skills” for Hindi language and the firm will continue to work with developers in India to introduce more such skills.
“A lot of how people in India engage with their smartphones and internet services is different from those in United States. For instance, in India, people often search the name of an actor instead of the singer or the band when they are looking for a particular song’’, he added.
Skills are capabilities like providing weather forecasts, ordering cabs or tell stories by simply asking Alexa to do so. Over 90,000 skills are available for Alexa worldwide with a significant number catering to Indian users.
Prasad said Alexa has been equipped with a rich Hindi vocabulary and speaks in fluent Hindi while responding to customer requests. He indicated that other languages could also be introduced in the future.
While all Amazon Echo smart speakers like Echo Dot, Echo Show 5 and Echo Input and select smart speakers from Bose will get the update right away, brands such as Motorola, MyBox, Boat, Portronics, Fingers, Sony, iBall and Dish will launch and update their existing Alexa-built in devices to support Hindi soon.
In August last year, Amazon had announced the launch of a new skill ‘Cleo’ to enable users to teach Alexa local Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi and Bengali. This, it had said, would also help the e-commerce giant improving Alexa’s speech recognition capabilities as well.
Last year, Amazon had also started making its e-commerce marketplace available in Hindi to users in India to enable the next 100 million users to shop online.
Tech companies like Google and Amazon are betting on vernacular languages as reports suggest that 90 per cent of new internet users in India are native language speakers. This makes it imperative for these tech companies to offer rich experience in local languages in India that is witnessing strong growth in Internet usage as well as consumption of connected devices.
(With inputs from PTI)