1. Artificial intelligence: Here’s how it can remove the language barrier

Artificial intelligence: Here’s how it can remove the language barrier

Companies like Karbonn have launched a smartphone equipped with artificial intelligence that can aid commerce—they call it visual commerce

By: | Published: November 1, 2016 6:30 AM
Rick Osterloh, Google's senior vice president for hardware, introduces the Pixel phone (Reuters) Rick Osterloh, Google’s senior vice president for hardware, introduces the Pixel phone (Reuters)

Artificial intelligence is the next big thing in the world of computing, and it is already there. Google’s Pixel smartphones, which come with an inbuilt Google Assistant that can get you anything from the daily dose of news to meditation tips, has already started selling in India. Siri is more intelligent than before; it lets you chat her up to find a good place to eat nearby and even draft an email for you.

But the biggest use of artificial intelligence might be in bringing down the bar to access for millions of people who find all the text and foreign languages on smartphones hard to comprehend. That is exactly what companies like Karbonn, who think more mass than niche, are working on. In fact, this Indian smartphone manufacturer has already launched a smartphone that comes with artificial intelligence that will aid commerce—they call it visual commerce.

“Our use of artificial intelligence for commerce is a first. With our Fashion Eye smartphone, users will be able to click the photo of a shirt, after which the artificial intelligence engine will throw options of where you can buy the same or a similar product across online sellers,” says Shashin Devsare, executive director, Karbonn Mobiles. Look at it from the angle of an entry-level smartphone user. She likes a shirt and all she has to do is click a photo of the same for the artificial intelligence engine to figure out where she can buy it at the best price.

Homegrown smartphone companies like Karbonn have an eye on the average Indian customer and what she needs, and is not always looking to make an impact with top-end features or specifications. “There are a lot of multinationals who think 250 million is a huge number, but it is their outlook. Our interest is in the next half a billion users; that is where Karbonn is focused,” says Devsare.

Devsare says it is unfair to believe that expectations from technology are going to be different for the rural market. “But we accept that affordability is hugely different.” These customers might be willing to make some compromises, he says, but those are not large enough for them to qualify them as a completely different breed altogether. “We are making strides to address the differentiated customers.” Karbonn’s focus is in terms of bringing about the smart telephone experience in “a simple and beautiful manner,” he adds.

Sounding a bit ominous, he says that it is apparent that Indian smartphone market is showing symptoms of reaching a tipping point, though it has still achieved only 30% penetration. The 3.9% growth Gartner recorded in the first quarter of 2016 can also be attributed to the sales of entry-level smartphones. Devsare says the only way to overcome this hurdle is to deliver an optimised hardware experience, while making the software relevant and rendered in terms of the right language and user interface. And language, at the moment, is the biggest hurdle for adoption of smartphones.

In fact, Karbonn’s experience with languages has been very positive. Insights from its K9 Smart entry-level device—its top seller in terms of volume, which offered native access to Indian languages—showed that this prompted 93% users to switch on data and at least half of them to start using the language in operating system. The company is now partnering with Indus OS to bring 21 languages to some new phones.

Google, too, knows that language will be the next big impediment for users to go online or, for that matter, even own a smartphone that will give them access to the internet. That is, local languages are getting a big push. Hindi is already among the languages getting the most attention. Artificial intelligence, too, will come next in Hindi on Allo, the good thing being that users will not need to type anything to interact with Google Assistant. There is a lot of stress on voice driving the next level of search so that more people use it. You already see a lot of Indians use this in day-to-day life and the numbers are only going to increase. Artificial intelligence will also make those search results better. While now it is more machine intelligence, this machine is also learning from the millions of queries it is processing each day.

Soon it will be able to improve the quality of search results and maybe even customise it more for the user. Yes, artificial intelligence is here.

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