Puneesh Kumar, Country Leader for Alexa, Amazon India goes back in time and reminisces about Alexa’s first year in Hindi. Read on…
When we launched Alexa in India in 2018, it was a unique experience for us. We launched with 10,000 skills, Alexa did a lot to become Indian, and she’s only getting better at knowing India and Indians. Helping her in this task is her ability to learn new languages. In 2019 September, we announced the support for Alexa interactions in Hindi. Today, as we look back it is heartening to see that users from India make hundreds of thousands of requests in a day to Alexa in Hindi and Hinglish. Alexa’s Indian avatar can respond in conversational Hindi, pick a Bollywood song for customers, belt out movie dialogues and even drum up a rap song in her unique voice.
From the time we decided to launch Alexa in India, our efforts have been to make Alexa as Indian as possible. Alexa speaks with an Indian accent, has a Indian personality, has knowledge about Indian festivals and other topics that are relevant for users in India such as Bollywood, cricket and so on. Our three year journey in India, starting with the support of Indian English, and now Hindi, has been full of learnings and making improvements.
“Really love it… Best thing is the way Alexa communicates in English and in Hindi” – Chirag Manu Verma, an Echo Dot user
“Alexa recognises commands in Hindi and that makes my mother is very happy. She gives command to her in Hindi and Alexa responds immediately” – Tanvi Agarawal, an Echo Dot user
There’s more to Alexa’s Hindi capability
Many Indian households have members of the family who prefer to speak in English and there are some who prefer to communicate in Hindi. This was our inspiration to offer the multilingual mode with Alexa. Users can switch between English and Hindi when talking to Alexa without changing the language setting from Hindi to English and the other way around every time. The freedom to speak with Alexa in their preferred language has resulted in a unique usage trend. A whopping 60% of requests from users who have set the device language to हिन्दी/ English are in a mixed language i.e. a combination of Hindi and English words. For e.x. “Alexa, Bollywood के latest गाने सुनाओ”, and “Alexa, cricket score बताओ”.
This huge volume of mixed language requests, coupled with the latest advances in deep neural networks, multi-dialect training, and semi-supervised learning have helped Alexa to reduce Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) errors by more than 40%since launch of Hindi last year. Ex. Alexa is much better at recognising words like ‘ढाई ‘ & ‘थम जा’ in requests such as “Alexa, ढाई बजे का alarm set करो” or “Alexa, थम जा”.
“Voice recognition is awesome. It also recognizes my 6 years old daughter’s voice perfectly. It is useful especially nowadays, it’s like a friend to kids and helps avoid screen time” – Ashwni, an Echo Dot user
Alexa does not fail to delight her customers
Culturally relevant humour, music, and pop-culture references have always found its way onto Alexa’s interface. For instance, famous Pop-Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanjh indulged in a ‘mock fight’ with Alexa when she could not recognize the request to play his latest song ‘Clash’. Well, his device was set up in the U.S. English. Alexa in Hindi is equipped to recognize a song request in 50 different ways. Whether you say, “Alexa मेहरबानी चलाओ”, “Alexa मेहरबानी बजाओ”, “Alexa मेहरबानी सुना दें”, “Alexa मेहरबानी लगाएँ”, “Alexa मेहरबानी play कर दो”, and so on, the AI can infer the requirement and deliver results.
Even Alexa doesn't know "Rashi ben ne cooker me se chane kyu nikaale"@amazonIN @amazon @AmazonEchoIndia #rashiben #rasodemekauntha #RasodeMeKonTha #gopibahu #kokilaben #alexa pic.twitter.com/Qy0r2rzazY
— Sanket Temani (@thetravelingeek) August 25, 2020
There’s something unique about users of Alexa in Hindi
Hindi customers are more interested in exploring the personality of Alexa through interactive and fun questions such as ‘कैसीहो?’, ‘क्या कर रही हो?’, and ‘चुटकुला सुनाओ’ as compared to the English customers. Since these kinds of interactions have a wide variety, we are constantly in the process of learning from customer requests and building more such interactive experiences. Alexa got so many marriage proposals that she made a multiturn experience to weed prospects through a marriage eligibility test when asked “Alexa, मुझसे शादी करोगी?”. As you take a minute to read this, a customer from some part of India is exploring his / her match with Alexa by asking this question. And this will repeat in the next minute, a minute after that and so on.
“There are so many skills we use, like Hindi stories for kids etc. The cute one is asking Alexa how to laugh. My kid loves the way Alexa laughs”, – Kuljeet Singh, an Echo Input Portable user
Trivia: Alexa is always around to share a laugh, and that too in the most musical way! No wonder then, she is asked “Alexa, हँस के दिखाओ” at least once a minute.
Playing music from a particular album or a singer is undoubtedly the most popular request that Alexa gets. Users in India however have unique ways of requesting for music, for example they will ask for Deepika Padukone songs and even Karan Johar. In the US and most parts of the world we rarely hear a request for playing songs by an actor such as Tom Hanks or any Hollywood director. Users of the Alexa in Hindi have even more unique taste. They are most likely to ask for devotional and spiritual songs. We also noticed increased requests for songs related to festive occasion such as Raksha Bandhan songs or Chhath Puja.
We ensured that Alexa understood such requests. The Alexa Natural Language Understanding (NLU) team has been driving numerous initiatives towards algorithmic improvement of Alexa’s understanding of Hindi. A large part of the capability is driven through machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques. Alexa is now equipped with hundreds of new words from the Hindi vocabulary. Such initiatives led to a 30% improvement in NLU accuracy i.e. understanding of customer requests in Hindi or Hinglish and providing the required content.
“Echo Dot is super useful. Specially ordered for my parents. Helpful for them as this device understands and speaks in Hindi” – Ronak Modi, an Echo Dot user
“Echo Dot is the best for gifting to parents. They will definitely love the Alexa Hindi interactions as it has all the fun elements preloaded with the AI” – Bhaskar, an Echo Input Portable user
It is still day one for Alexa in Hindi
Since the availability of Alexa interactions in Hindi we have seen a wider adoption of Alexa in Indian households. Today, users from India make hundreds of thousands of requests in a day to Alexa in Hindi and Hinglish. These include asking Alexa to play music, questions, read the news, set timers and alarms, check the calendar, provide sports scores, control smart lights, watch videos on Echo devices with screen and much more. The joy of our customers is evident when they say “I love you” to Alexa at least once every minute.
However, the complexity and variety of questions in Hindi/ Hinglish by customers is 50% higher than the range of questions asked by customers to Alexa in English. This makes it extremely challenging for the speech science teams to ensure Alexa’s understanding of user requests is optimum. There may still be many customer requests or words in Hindi that Alexa does not recognise accurately. We appreciate customers being patient with Alexa, taking the time to interact in Hindi so that Alexa can learn more, as well as visiting the ‘provide feedback’ section in the Alexa app to share their experiences. We continue to use latest advancements in machine learning and deep neural networks to make Alexa smarter. We are humbled by the customer engagement and positive feedback. It is still Day One.
I will leave you with a special message from Alexa for all users in India, just ask “Alexa, हमारी दोस्ती पर poem सुनाओ”.