INDIA: In a bid to revolutionise access to government schemes and bridge language barriers in rural India, technology giant Microsoft has unveiled ‘Jugalbandi,’ an innovative multilingual chatbot driven by artificial intelligence (AI).
Developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research, AI4Bharat, and OpenNyAI, this cutting-edge chatbot aims to provide crucial information on government initiatives to farmers and rural residents through the widely used WhatsApp messaging service.
With over 1.4 billion people and an incredibly diverse linguistic landscape, India faces significant challenges in ensuring effective communication and accessibility to government programmes.
Recognising the importance of reaching out to all citizens, Microsoft’s ‘Jugalbandi’ is set to become a game-changer in empowering the rural population with vital information in their local languages.
According to a press release by Microsoft, ‘Jugalbandi’ operates seamlessly within the WhatsApp platform and leverages the power of AI to make information on government schemes accessible to users in multiple languages.
The chatbot’s development has been made possible through a collaboration between Microsoft Research, AI4Bharat—an open-source language AI centre based at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras—and OpenNyAI.
The language barrier in India is a significant hurdle, with only 11 percent of the population proficient in English and 57 percent fluent in Hindi. As a result, a large number of individuals are unable to access essential government programmes due to the language divide.
However, ‘Jugalbandi’ aims to address this issue by providing easy access to information in local languages through mobile phones, eliminating the need for people to visit local community service centres or stand in long queues for basic information.
Microsoft highlights that the key strength of ‘Jugalbandi’ lies in its ability to understand a user’s queries in their preferred language.
Even if the required information exists in a different language within its database, the chatbot can retrieve and deliver the relevant details reliably and inexpensively. This breakthrough technology promises to simplify the process of understanding and enrolling in basic government schemes for users.
Interacting with ‘Jugalbandi’ is straightforward. Users simply send a text or audio message to a dedicated WhatsApp number, which triggers the chatbot.
The AI4Bharat speech recognition model transcribes the message into text, and then it is translated to English using the Bhashini translation model. The Azure OpenAI Service’s model retrieves information about the relevant government scheme based on the query.
Prior to being delivered back to the user via WhatsApp, the response is translated back into Hindi and synthesised into speech using the AI4Bharat text-to-speech model.
At its current stage, ‘Jugalbandi’ supports 10 out of India’s 22 official languages and covers approximately 171 out of a total of around 20,000 government programmes.
Microsoft acknowledges that there may be some areas requiring improvement but is actively seeking feedback from organisations such as Gram Vaani, a Delhi-based social enterprise closely connected to the farming community.
The potential impact of ‘Jugalbandi’ on rural India is immense. Once the chatbot’s performance is perfected, it is expected to enable hassle-free access to essential government schemes, empowering farmers and rural residents with knowledge that was previously out of reach.
With ‘Jugalbandi,’ Microsoft demonstrates its commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technology to drive social progress and ensure that technology benefits all sections of society.
By breaking down language barriers and making information easily accessible, the chatbot opens up new possibilities for farmers and rural communities, ultimately contributing to the socioeconomic development of rural India.