The Indian government has chosen conversational AI startup Senseforth to build voice assistants and chatbots for the nation’s official app platform Umang. The startup’s AI will serve to answer questions and help citizens access government services by voice command to help serve more people and be more accessible.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT picked Senseforth for the role among several contract bidders. The company offered the lowest bid of the companies who submitted that were deemed capable of fulfilling the contract. Umang, which stands for Unified Mobile Application for New-Age Governance, is a mobile app built by the Indian government as an all-in-one gateway to national and state government service. Senseforth is going to provide a voice AI that can discuss more than 100 of those services in its initial rollout over the next few months, including passport and driving license status, blood bank information and locations. The AI will speak English in Hindi at first, but more services and more languages will be available once the first set is deemed successful, with Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu high on the list. When soliciting proposals, the government described a voice assistant equivalent to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, capable of speaking multiple languages, running text-to-voice and back, and understanding things like intent and emotion. Umang is just the beginning, potentially.
“Platforms should also have other deep learning capabilities, which can be used by platforms for discovery and recommendation of eligible schemes and services to the users of bots/applications,” the government’s proposal suggested. “Users should be recommended best-fit schemes and services available in government domain based on his/her profile.”
The voice assistant is part of India’s larger AI strategy to better connect with the more than 700 million internet users in the country. That’s why India launched a chatbot on WhatsApp to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and fight misinformation last year. That chatbot was accessed by more than 30 million people, breaking the record for most users of a chatbot on the platform. Other countries are exploring similar ideas. Estonia, well known for its embrace of digital technology, has created a strategy for building out a network of artificial intelligence applications, including a nationwide public service voice assistant in a network called #KrattAI. The idea is to apply AI to accomplish the kind of tasks that usually require a phone call or an in-person visit to a government agency. That matches up with India’s plan. As seen in the vying for market share between Amazon and Google, the rapidly growing popularity of voice assistants in India could encourage the rapid adoption of a national voice AI. Voicebot.ai