Microsoft’s AI reaches Indian villages

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Only a few months have passed since Microsoft and OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT to the world, sparking a buzz among tech enthusiasts and industry titans. Now the technology underpinning this generative AI is breaking through barriers, reaching remote hamlets hundreds of miles from the tech hubbub of Seattle and San Francisco.

Jugalbandi, a chatbot built in collaboration with Microsoft, the open source initiative OpenNyAI and AI4Bharat, backed by the Indian government, is showing signs of progress in redefining access to information for villagers in India, providing insight into more than 170 government programs in 10 indigenous languages.

Although India is the second largest wireless market in the world, technological advancements in the smaller towns and cities are virtually absent. Only a paltry 11% of the country’s population is proficient in English, with a slim majority of 57% conversant with Hindi. These communities also struggle with literacy problems and do not even have regular access to conventional media.

“As a result, large numbers of the population are unable to access government programs due to language barriers,” Microsoft explained in a blog post.

To bridge this gap, Jugalbandi uses a platform with almost universal recognition in India: WhatsApp. Using language models from AIBharat and reasoning models from Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, Jugalbandi enables individuals to ask questions and receive answers in both text and speech, in their local language.

“This time, this technology is reaching everyone in the world,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Tuesday at the company’s Build conference. “There are two things that struck me: Things we build can make a difference to 8 billion people, not just a small group of people… and to be able to do that through dissemination that takes days and weeks, not years and centuries because we want that equitable growth and trust in technology to protect the fundamental rights we care about.”

Microsoft envisions Jugalbandi expanding its reach and ultimately helping villagers with a broad spectrum of needs, with India proving ideal ground for the tech titan.

The US tech giant is also advancing its partnership with numerous Indian companies aimed at democratizing access to information for the wider population. One such firm is Gram Vaani. Delhi-based Gram Vaani has an interactive voice-enabled platform. This system enables volunteers to provide personalized help and advice to farmers. The company says it has amassed 3 million users in northern and central India.

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