Amazon teaches Alexa to speak Hinglish. Apple’s Siri is next

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa -- from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

Amazon has worked with third-party developers who have built more than 10,000 extensions for Alexa — from summoning cabs through Ola to recommending Deepika Padukone movies to finding the perfect recipe for Hyderabad biryani.

The US e-commerce company is beginning to ship Echo speakers in India this week, about a year after bringing them to foreign markets like the UK and Germany. In that time, teams of linguists, speech scientists, developers and engineers have given a decidedly local makeover to the Alexa virtual assistant that powers the speakers.

This Alexa uses a blend of Hindi and English and speaks with an unmistakably Indian accent. She knows Independence Day is August 15th, not July 4th, and wishes listeners “Happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year!” She also refers to the living room as ‘drawing room’ and can add jeera (cumin), haldi (turmeric) and atta (flour) to your shopping list. Then there are her cricket jokes. (Don’t ask.)

“We wanted our devices to talk, walk and feel Indian,” said Parag Gupta, head of product management for Amazon Devices in India. “Alexa is not a visiting American, she has a very Indian personality.”

Amazon isn’t alone. Technology giants from Apple Inc to Google are targeting this nation of 1.3 billion people by training virtual assistants in the heterogeneity of its languages and subcultures. Though many people understand American or British English, they’re more comfortable with assistants who sound more like them.

Hinglish borrows parts of both languages, including the grammar. In some cases words are fused together to mean something different. The key is for the digital assistant to understand a sentence using a mixture of both, yet grasp what they mean and their context.

Source: economictimes.indiatimes.com; 31 Oct 2017

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