Here's why Amazon bringing local languages to Alexa in India matters


  • Amazon has introduced the Cleo skill for Alexa in India, introducing Indian languages to the artificially intelligent virtual assistant.
  • Enabling Cleo would allow Alexa to recognise commands in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other local Indian languages.
  • The localisation of the virtual assistant will help Amazon tap into the base of potential smart speaker users in India.
While the market for smart speakers and voice platforms is rapidly expanding, artificial intelligence is India has struggled to overcome the linguistic barrier. But by launching the Cleo skill, Amazon is now introducing local languages like Hindi, Marathi and Bengali onto the platform.

According to the company, the creation of a new languages for Alexa is a process that has gained a lot from developments in machine learning, computing power and data availability.

The importance of localisation

India is poised to become, and to quite an extent already is, a very important market for Amazon. A survey from Accenture predicts that nearly 30% of India’s online population will own a smart speaker by the end of 2018. But, the issue lies in the fact that even though Alexa was launched with ‘an Indian accent’ locally, the assistant isn’t quite Indian just yet.

This ‘bias’ problem isn’t isolated to Alexa, but a predicament that most virtual assistants in the market face today. According to Globalme’s analysis, the Google Home is 0.3% inaccurate for Indian markets while the Amazon Echo is off book 1.8% of the time.

The percentage may seem very small, even insignificant, but even a slight gap could result in a major obstacle. It’s like when your phone keeps autocorrecting ‘pinching’ to ‘punching’. One letter apart, but a world of difference.

While assistants like Alexa, Siri and Holly currently dominate the voice control market, experts are of the opinion that initiatives like the Mycroft project could knock them off their perch. This is primarily because while Amazon, Apple, Google and even Microsoft play their technology close to the vest, Mycroft is an open-source AI voice assistant.

By making natural language processing technology available to people easily, it is likely to threaten the current status-quo should the big companies get too complacent. Because, at the end of the day, the advantages of open source lie in the fact that it develops faster, is way cheaper to develop and has a myriad of talent at its disposal.

Thus, the importance of speedy localisation for Amazon. With 195 million people out of 325 million being local language internet users in India, that’s more than half of the users preferring an Indian language over English.

In order to enable the Cleo skill for Alexa, users have to access the settings in the Alexa app and switch it on. Or, they could always ask Alexa to do it for them instead.



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