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.
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”.
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.
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 ‘कैसी हो?’, ‘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.
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.
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".
Popular questions that customers in India ask Alexa in Hindi:
Entertainment & information
- Customers love asking for stories. From a collection of original stories and audio books from Audible, Alexa regales customers with stories at least once a minute.
- Be it about the complexity of love, the diversity of food in India, or just plain old riyaaz, Alexa's singing prowess, with a Desi touch, has customers engaged, with Alexa responding to over 1000 requests to sing a song every day.
- Alexa loves Bollywood films and cannot lie! So, she is always ready to deliver a filmy dialogue whenever customers ask! In fact, she gets at nearly 700 requests to deliver a Bollywood dialogue or mimic a celeb every day.
- Like Gully Boy, Alexa is a rapper at her (virtual) heart. No wonder, then, that she gets over 500 requests to rap every day.
- Alexa keeps a track of the biggest news stories from India and around the world, and she helps customers stay up to date as well, with customers asking Alexa for news at least 4 times every minute.
- It’s always a good time to hear something interesting, and so, customers turn to Alexa and ask, “Kuchh mazedaar sunao,” twice every minute. Alexa responds with funny and heartwarming news stories from India and all over the world!
- Alexa may not understand the human emotion of love, but her conversations have impressed customers so much that at least 1 customer says "I love you" to Alexa every minute.
- Customers are concerned about Alexa's well-being. So much so that at least 5 customers ask, “Alexa, kaisi ho?" every minute.
- Alexa gets a marriage proposal at least once every minute! But she wants all potential suitors to take a quiz first.
- All Alexa needs is WiFi! But in true desi fashion, customers ask, “Alexa, khana khaogi?” at least once every 2 minutes.
- What does Alexa do in the cloud? Now that is something customers wonder quite often, with at least 2 customers asking, "Alexa, kya kar rahi ho?" every minute.
- What's in the name, they say. But in Alexa’s case, it’s everything! And so, customers ask Alexa, "Tumhara naam kya hai?" at least once a minute.
- Alexa is always around to share a laugh, and that too in the most musical way! No wonder then, she is asked "kya tum hans sakti ho" at least once a minute.