With the aim of making Alexa more friendly for Indian users, Amazon on Tuesday launched its Cleo skill in India. The skill, which debuted in the US in early 2017, is designed to improve Alexa's understanding of local languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Telugu, and Gujarati, among others. While the Cleo skill doesn't empower the voice assistant to entirely learn new languages and start speaking in Hindi or other Indian languages just as it does in English, it is touted help the assistant gradually learn to speak in local languages. The skill has been built by a team of linguists and data scientists who have a passion for languages and is supported by dialects around the world. Moreover, Amazon believes Cleo comes as a solution to help it have a direct connection with customers. This is something that is vital for the Seattle, Washington-based company in order to take on the likes of Google Assistant and Apple's Siri.
"What we are looking to do with Cleo is to find an avenue where our customers can help us develop Alexa further," Janet Slifka, Senior Manager, Research Science, Alexa Artificial Intelligence at Amazon, tells Gadgets 360 in a telephonic conversation. "In this case, it's a nice opportunity to listen directly to our customers about the way they want to speak to Alexa and the languages they want to speak to Alexa in."
Cleo lets you respond to Alexa in your local language or dialect. This way, you'll be able to add your native speaking behaviour to the voice assistant that comes not just in Amazon Echo speakers but is also preloaded in many other smart speakers, displays, and even some smartphones. It eventually helps Amazon to improve systems powering Alexa organically as customers will start incorporating data related to their local languages. This will also build a community of native people, who aren't developers but work like developers and contribute their part to improve Alexa over time.
"Cleo's availability in India will help improve Alexa's language model, understanding of pronunciation patterns and word choice, and help her gradually speak in local languages," says Slifka, without revealing any schedule around Alexa getting native support for local languages.
Slifka also highlights that the Cleo skill is not limited to certain Indian languages. Instead, she says that Cleo is as an interactive way customers can help Alexa learn any language and improve her speech recognition and natural language understanding.
To begin teaching Alexa local languages, enable the Cleo skill (pronounced as KLEE-oh) from the Skills section within the Alexa app or simply ask your Echo speaker or any other Alexa-enabled device to enable Cleo. You'll now need to pass a command saying, "Alexa, open Cleo." After that, Alexa will ask you for the language you want to speak. You can, for instance, say "Hindi" or "Punjabi" and then Alexa will ask you to confirm the language. This will begin the first learning round for the voice assistant.
During each learning round, Alexa will ask you to say at least five things in your languages. You may be asked to say something specific or just say anything random. This helps Alexa learn new words and phrases in your local language. The type of round will differ each time you play. Furthermore, the aim is to speak in your language as natural as possible and with as friendliness as you speak with your family members or friends.
You can also end any round at any particular time by saying "Alexa, stop." Likewise, you can see how the learning process is going by saying, "Alexa, ask Cleo how am I doing?" Cleo also offers badges and ranks to make users adhere to the training model.
"Cleo is one of many science, engineering approaches that we are taking," Slifka says. "It is not an either-or type of situation. We are certainly investing in our widening. But interestingly, we want to listen to our customers, and Cleo is the solution for us to have that very direct connect."
The prime benefit of having the Cleo skill is to add more localisation to Alexa to ultimately customise the experience of Indian users. Notably, Amazon already tweaked the original Alexa experience to make it relevant for Indians. The company even did a pilot in the country before launching Alexa in October last year to understand the basic requirements of Indian users and serve them what they want and embrace. But with the Cleo skill, the experience is likely to reach new levels as customers will natively add their local flavour to the voice assistant that was initially designed for the US audience. "What we've already seen is customers with Alexa available in India for English already want a more customised experience to use a mix of some local language phrases or mix up a bit English with local languages," states Slifka. "We have already begun gradual cooperation of that type of information, and Cleo helps us there. It gets up to that more customise the experience."
As we mentioned, it is worth pointing out that the initial data through Cleo won't help Amazon bring a full-fledged experience to Alexa to speak in languages such as Hindi in the coming future. The company indeed needs to do a lot of work on its own on that front. However, what will play a crucial role through the Cleo skill is to help Amazon realise voice recognition in Indian languages correctly. The company's aim is that this effort will slowly and gradually help the digital assistant better understand what customers want to say. "They very near impact of Cleo will be to help us realise the recognition correctly and then on the longer term, we will be able to understand what customers want beyond what we have already learnt from surveying our customers," Slifka culminates.