The Race to Speak Hinglish

alexa indiaInternet coverage in India is growing by five million consumers per week. Many of those millions are buying their first smartphones, but many more are receiving smart speakers with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.

Alexa is making an especially aggressive push in India, in part by making Alexa particularly adept in Hinglish (the Hindi + English dialect popular across much of the country). In addition to accent and vocabulary, Alexa has been taught about Indian holidays, Biryani recipes, funny Cricket jokes and Bollywood plot lines. Developers have added 10,000 “skills” to Alexa appropriate for the Indian market (when Alexa launched in the US, by comparison, there were only 13 skills). Amazon is working hard to increase the skills “ecosystem”, paying the most successful skills developers over $100,000 annually.

The major expansion of smart speakers in developing countries raises an interesting prospect. The final billion or two people to get access to the internet likely won’t do that initially through a smartphone, but through a smart speaker. The poorest of the poor — that haven’t even seen radio, much less a computer — will have a small speaker in their hut that they can ask anything in their native language. “What will the weather be next week?”.  “Can you connect me to my brother in the next village?”. “What is the history of my peoples?”.

How will this be perceived? When I play with smart speakers, I think “Wow — voice recognition has gotten good, and my bandwidth is finally sufficient, and the access to cloud services is impressive”.

What will they think? Will they — without any broader context — assume they are hearing the voice of God?

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