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Microsoft Launches ‘Jugalbandi’, An AI-Based Multilingual Chatbot For Rural India

To use the chatbot, the process remains the same as any other chatbot on WhatsApp, that is, by sending “hi” to a specific number.

Microsoft has unveiled a new generative AI-driven chatbot called ‘Jugalbandi’, designed for farmers and other users living in rural India. The chatbot is being developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research and the government-backed AI4Bharat – an open-source language AI centre based at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras – and OpenNyAI.

According to a press release, the chatbot will operate over the WhatsApp messaging service and it aims to make information on government schemes accessible in multiple languages.

Microsoft has said that the bot could help bridge the language barrier in India where English is spoken by just 11 percent of the 1.4 billion population. It also noted that only 57 percent of Indians speak Hindi, leaving “vast numbers of the population unable to access government programs because of language barriers”.

Therefore, “Jugalbandi offers all Indians easy access to information in local language through a mobile phone, instead of having to head to the local community service center and stand in line just to get basic information,” the company stated.

Further, the firm explained that the chatbot understands a user’s exact problem in their language and then tries to deliver the right information reliably and cheaply, even if that exists in some other language in a database somewhere.

To use the chatbot, the process remains the same as any other chatbot on WhatsApp, that is, by sending “hi” to a specific number. “A villager sends a text or audio message to a WhatsApp number, which initiates the Jugalbandi bot. That is transcribed to text using the AI4Bharat speech recognition model. That, in turn, is translated to English by the Bhashini translation model trained by AI4Bharat,” Microsoft explained in its blog.

“Based on the prompt, Azure OpenAI Service’s model retrieves information on the relevant government scheme. The answer is translated to Hindi. That is then synthesized with the AI4Bharat text-to-speech model and sent back to WhatsApp – and the villager’s ear,” the company added.

So far, Jugalbandi covers 10 of India’s 22 official languages and 171 of a total of approximately 20,000 government programmes. However, the company has noted that the application still has “rough edges” but also stated that AI4Bharat is trying to resolve issues by seeking feedback from organisations such as Gram Vaani, a Delhi-based social enterprise that closely works with farmers.

Once perfected, users will be able to understand and enrol for basic government schemes hassle-free, Microsoft said.

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