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Alexa is Learning: Amazon’s Virtual Assistant may Soon Talk to You in Impeccable Hindi

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between

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Prime Day sales are as large if not larger than Christmas sales and generally Amazon stock price gets a boost into this period. VOA

India is a key growth market for Alexa’s global team at Amazon and witnessing the potential, the team is working on to introduce more regional language capabilities in the voice-based assistant that has stormed the living rooms in the country.

Though the smart speaker is a relatively young product in India, voice assistants like Alexa in smart devices are gaining immense popularity in the country.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), Amazon Echo led the Indian smart speakers market with 59 per cent share in 2018, followed by Google Home with 39 per cent unit share.

“Yes, we are working on infusing regional languages capabilities in Alexa for the Indian market but these are early days,a said Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist for Alexa.

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India is a key growth market for Alexa’s global team at Amazon and witnessing the potential. Flickr

Right now, Alexa can understand some Hinglish commands but these are few and far between.

“For us, it is a contextual, cultural as well as content-related challenge as the question is not that Alexa just needs to understand Hindi. This part we can do relatively easily but Alexa needs to be Indian when it speaks in Hindi as there are several dialects and accents out there which Alexa has to understand and react accordingly,” Prasad told IANS on the sidelines of Amazon’s flagship “re: Mars” event here.

According to him, even jokes that are appropriate in the US may not be sound appropriate in the Indian languages.

“These are challenges which are not language dependent but more culture dependent. We believe in introducing a wholesome experience to delight our customers and not something that is half-baked. We are working on to solve these issues in the Indian context,” Prasad added.

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Amazon last year launched a new category of skill called “Cleo” that enables customers in India help Alexa learn Hindi and other languages. The idea was to improve Alexa’s language model and help her gradually speak in local languages.

Apart from Hindi, users can respond to Alexa’s English statements in Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other regional languages.

“We want Alexa to be everywhere. The whole idea is to make it more natural and conversational with humans with new Machine Learning (ML) capabilities that we are applying now,” said Prasad who has various teams working on it and the Bengaluru team is fairly big among them.

In India, there are nearly eight third-party brands with 13 different devices that have Alexa built-in.

Alexa, Amazon, Virtual Assistant
Amazon Echo led the Indian smart speakers market with 59 per cent share in 2018. Pixabay

“Alexa is a personal assistant, a companion, a friend, a family member. That’s how I think of it because our customers think of it that way. We are very transparent from day one on the privacy of your conversations and beyond the awake’ word, nothing is being recorded,” Prasad noted.

Alexa is currently available in over 80 countries and speaks more than 14 language variants. The main driver of the early adoption so far is the novelty factor around this technology.

The company has invested big in India from the perspective of developing skills for Alexa, hiring scientists to engineers.

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“Alexa is not just to facilitate entertainment but can help in sectors like education and health. For those who are differently-abled, it can help plan daily schedules apart from reading news or playing songs,” said Prasad. (IANS)

Next Story

Is Oracle Digital Assistant Smarter Than Amazon Alexa? Find Out Here!

Here's Why Oracle's digital assistant better than Amazon's Alexa

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Amazon Alexa may lag behind Oracel Digital Assistant. Pixabay

Alexa may be your perfect living room assistant, but when it comes to specific queries with particular vocabulary from enterprises, it lags behind in rich capabilities that Oracle Digital Assistant (ODA) has to offer, a top company executive has stressed.

Oracle Digital Assistant can become your intelligent front-end — your smart router that’s able to send all your specific questions to relevant bots, according to Suhas Uliyar, VP-Product Management, Oracle Digital Assistant and Integration Cloud.

“It knows how to handle conflicts, manage security and so on and so forth. It has got Artificial Intelligence (AI) and is AI-trained so we call the routing of your questions to be relevant, and call it a skill now. Instead of bot, it’s a skill,” Uliyar told IANS during an interaction.

According to him, there are a couple of differences compared to Alexa as it works on the same model.

“Alexa is very implicit, where you have to say — Alexa, ask this skill to do something. While Oracle Digital Assistant is both explicit and implicit and you don’t need to sort of say ‘go ask the HCM (Human Capital Management) bot,’ for instance. It’ll just figure out that the question is for HCM bot and will answer accordingly,” Uliyar elaborated.

The other thing is to use the word ‘assistant’ and, according to him, we are overloading the term ‘assistant’ because if you have an ‘assistant’, she or he is smart enough to understand who you are, what your preferences are, know how you work.

“Most of the chatbots respond to a simple question and answer. Next time, it will probably remember who you are. So, the whole context is memory, and also the process side of things,” the Oracle executive added.

Oracle Digital Assistant provides the platform and tools to easily build AI-powered assistants that connect to your backend applications.

The digital assistant uses AI for natural language processing and understanding, to automate engagements with conversational interfaces that respond instantly, improve user satisfaction, and increase business efficiencies.

Most of those voice-enabled application programming interfaces (APIs) are being trained using what’s called Open Common Domain Models, which means that it understands our normal speaking style and content.

“What if an enterprise has a specific vocabulary? For example, a very common thing in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is what’s EBITDA for a company. You try saying EBITDA to Alexa or any other such assistant in the market today, and you’ll most likely draw a blank,” Uliyar told IANS.

Oracle AI
Oracle digital assistant uses AI for natural language processing and understanding. Pixabay

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) is a measure of a company’s operating performance.

According to him, to serve customers with delightful experiences every single time, there has to be a lot of innovation happening — whether it’s mobile, chatbots, Blockchain, AI or AR/VR.

“With all these new realities, what enterprises really need is a platform that can pull that ‘holistic experience’ altogether. That’s sort of the topmost challenge that enterprise customers want to solve,” he noted.

Oracle Digital Assistant is very sophisticated. It has got deep learning and is based on a technology called Sequence-to-Sequence vectoring and creates what we call as logical forms of the statement.

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“We call it a deep semantic parsing. It’s the underlying technology and is very different given the advancements of deep learning. We can do a much better job instead of understanding the linguistic constructs, versus in the past. This is quite a bit of advancement. We’re definitely very excited about pushing the boundaries,” said Uliyar. (IANS)