New Delhi: In 2018, Amazon introduced a new Alexa skill called Cleo that allowed customers in India to speak to its voice assistant in local languages. Yesterday, Amazon announced that Cleo was instrumental in teaching the voice assistant to speak in Hindi.

Alexa, which was first launched in November 2014, has become a worldwide name in the category of smart assistants. And learning Hindi was a given for Alexa, given that an Indian mind is behind its development.

We’re talking about Rohit Prasad, vice-president and head scientist at Alexa Artificial Intelligence at Amazon. In 2017, Prasad was 15th amongst Recode’s 100 people in tech, business and media. Only the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Sundar Pichai were ranked above him.

"We look forward to Alexa delighting our Hindi-speaking customers and working with developers in India to invent many more Hindi skills," Prasad said in a statement yesterday. He also thanked Indian customers for using the Cleo skill to help teach Alexa the language.

Prasad completed his schooling from DAV Public School, Ranchi, following which he studied engineering from Birla Institute of Technology (BITS), Mersa. He reportedly had an offer from IIT Roorkee, but chose BITS as it was closer home.

While he joined Amazon in 2013, Prasad has also worked with BBN Technologies, an American research and development company. He and Toni Reid, vice-president of Alexa Experience and Echo Devices, Amazon, are credited for the development of the company’s voice assistant, which essentially created the market for artificial intelligence (AI).

Alexa was named after the ancient library of Alexandria and is Amazon’s voice-control system. To add Hindi to its voice assistant, Amazon had to understand the Devnaagri script that Hindi is based on. The company’s voice assistant doesn’t just understand Hindi but also deciphers Hinglish and responds to queries. To do this, the company had to add a bilingual model to its text-to-speech engine, so that Alexa can understand the mixed usage of Hindi and English in India.

The company is also making Hindi available to third parties through its Alexa Skills Kit. This will allow those building their own Alexa skills to integrate Hindi into those skills. However, Amazon said that the company does the heavy lifting of understanding commands in Hindi and passing on appropriate commands, so third parties won’t have to do that. They can, however, use this to improve their own user experiences by providing more natural responses in Hindi.

Amazon’s Echo devices have quickly become the go-to name for AI-enabled speakers for consumers. The company has sold over a million Echo speakers in the country already, according to reports. In fact, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the speakers led the smart speaker market in India with 59% market share.

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