On big advantage that Google Home had over Amazon’s Echo was its ability to speak and understand local languages. Amazon has been struggling to add languages to its virtual assistant - Alexa - on its Echo devices. That’s part of the reason Alexa lost out to Google Assistant in this challenge as well.
However, Amazon has decided that it can actually get Alexa to learn Indian languages, by getting users in India to teach it, just by talking to their Echo devices using a new Cleo Skill.
Using Cleo, customers can respond to Alexa’s English statements in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, Gujarati and other Indian languages. The more they use Cleo, the more it will improve Alexa’s speech recognition and natural language understanding in the long term.
Cleo’s availability in India will help improve Alexa’s language model and help it to gradually speak in local languages using machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence.
How Does Cleo Work?
Customers can enable Cleo within the “Skills” section of their Alexa app or simply ask their Echo or Alexa-enabled devices to enable Cleo. For instance, if a customer wants to teach Hindi to Alexa, he or she can open Cleo and be prompted by Alexa in English to respond to her in Hindi. It works for other languages too.
1. Say “Alexa, open Cleo.” (Pronounced: KLEE-oh)
2. Alexa will describe how the skill works and ask you for the language you speak. Say the name of your language in English (e.g. “Hindi”, “Marathi”, “Tamil”).
3. Alexa will ask you to confirm the language and will move into the first learning round.
4. During each round, Alexa will ask you to say at least five things in your language. Wait for her to prompt you and then go ahead and respond in the language you specified.
5. Aim to speak as naturally as possible in your language. It’s better to say something naturally than to translate.
6. To close Cleo during a learning round, just say “Alexa, stop.”
7. Want to see how you stack up against the competition? Just say, “Alexa, ask Cleo how am I doing?” Play Cleo often to earn badges and climb up the ranks!
Will This Work?
Crowdsourcing Alexa’s local language skills is a good idea for Amazon. It will build up a huge database of phrases in very little time. But the issue is, will it be perfect? In the first phase, Alexa is only listening to phrases to learn the language. In the next phase it will reply in the language chosen.
Remember Tay? That was Microsoft’s Twitter bot that was released in 2016 as an experiment in conversational understanding. The more it interacted with people, the smarter it was to get. Unfortunately, Twitter users turned it into a racist bot in just 24 hours.
That’s a safeguard Amazon will have to build into the Cleo skill as well. Otherwise, imagine asking for a weather update in Hindi and being given an earful of choice Hindi swear words in place of punctuation!
Alexa, are you listening?