Google has been feeding the Assistant – its artificial intelligence (AI) software that can take voice commands – with millions of voice, text, and image samples in local languages, especially Hindi, to make the internet more relevant for non-English speaking Indians.
The move is in line with what Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said during the launch of the Pixel smartphone: “The Assistant will help Google design a personal Google for everyone.”
A personal internet is perhaps more important in India than anywhere else in the world – the country’s diversity is unique as requirements, culture, consumption and economic status changes from state to state.
“As we go deeper into India, voice will become very important,” said Rajan Anandan, head of Google’s sales and operations in South East Asia and India.
Google wants the world’s information to be available to every individual at the click of a button. For that it has to go to heavily populated countries such as China and India.
But as Google penetrated deeper into the hinterland it faced a unique challenge – people did not know English. That’s when it started developing capabilities to recognise local languages. It also allied with industry partners, the Indian Language Internet Alliance.
Google aims to give 500 million people access to the internet in India by 2017 (currently, there are about 350 million internet users). Since only 200 million of these users knew English, Google then introduced the Indic keyboard in Android.
But there was another challenge. Many people in the country can’t type. So Google began feeding the internet its Assistant voice commands.
“Everything is data … the AI platform needs to be trained in local language.You have to train the machine, in every language and every dialect. That’s a big deal,” said Anandan.
Search queries in local languages are growing 10 times faster than in English. Hindi content consumption is growing five times faster than that of English.
It has been training the platform through voice samples at its call centres since 2011-12. The result is seen in Google’s recent advertisements. One of them shows a small-town woman reciting “shayaari” into the phone as she watches her husband being insulted by a group of younger guys. She completes the couplet as her husband watches her read out the head search results from the phone.
As the Assistant learns more, it will not only show up search results, but it will also talk in the local language.