Amazon Alexa has been in India for more than four years. The voice assistant, which initially debuted on Amazon Echo speakers, is now available on a variety of third-party devices, including smart TVs, smartphones, and wearable devices like smart watches, as well as true wireless (TWS) stereo headphones and earphones. And, of course, there are Amazon’s own Echo devices. Although Alexa began her journey in India only in English, she gradually began to understand Hindi and Hinglish, a mix of Hindi and English, which is popular throughout the country.
In this week’s episode of Gadgets 360’s Orbital podcast, host Akhil Arora speaks with Dilip RS, the country manager for Alexa Skills and Voice Services at Amazon India, to understand Alexa’s journey in the country. Joining the conversation is Gadgets 360 audio expert Ali Pardiwala, who has reviewed several Alexa-integrated devices.
Amazon formally introduced Alexa in India through the first family of Echo speakers in October 2017. The Echo range was initially invite-only and became available to all customers in February 2018. However, shortly after the series Initial echo, the voice assistant expanded. in the country through third-party devices, including Logitech and Harman Kardon speakers and a Moto Mod for Motorola phones.
Before Alexa’s formal debut in India, dozens of early adopters in the country, including our host, were testing the experience with Echo speakers from outside the country. But the official release helped Amazon get a wide range of data sets to polish localization. Dilip tells us that Alexa now understands both Hindi and English words, as well as a multilingual mode where you can interact with the voice assistant in both languages simultaneously.
“People who speak to Alexa in Hindi actually have 50 percent more questions,” he says.
In 2018, Amazon introduced a skill called Cleo that helped Alexa learn Hindi and other Indian languages directly from users. Later, Amazon’s engineering team built a bilingual Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system that allowed Alexa to understand Hindi and English words at the same time. The system also includes spaces to incorporate content from multiple Indian languages in Telugu, Tamil and Marathi, Dilip tells us in the conversation.
“Alexa has to really understand what the client intends in what language and even respond in that language,” he adds.
Dilip also reveals that over the past four years, Echo devices have expanded their reach to nearly 85 percent of pin codes in the country. They are no longer limited to some metropolitan areas but are available in cities like Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh and Bundi, Rajasthan.
In addition to its regular customers, Amazon is seeing government school teachers in India using Alexa-powered Echo or third-party devices in their classrooms to help their students interact more freely and improve their diction. Dilip says, “Children are asking questions that they don’t feel comfortable asking their teachers. Their attendance rates are up at school.”
We also talk about the privacy side and how Alexa works even in areas where internet connectivity is not on par with metropolitan cities. You can listen to all of this and more by hitting the play button on the embedded Spotify player above.
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