Microsoft has unveiled a new generative AI-driven chatbot called ‘Jugalbandi’, designed for farmers and other users living in rural India. The chatbot is being developed in collaboration with Microsoft Research and the government-backed AI4Bharat – an open-source language AI centre based at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and OpenNyAI. This chatbot will operate over the WhatsApp messaging service and it aims to make information on government schemes accessible in multiple Indian languages.
Microsoft has been relentless with its efforts in the artificial intelligence (AI) space, especially with the growing buzz around generative AI and all of the incredible potential this technology entails. Microsoft explained the vision behind the bot in its blog, saying that though business and public life in India are largely conducted in English, merely 11 per cent of the population speaks the language, while 57 per cent of the population speaks Hindi. “That leaves vast numbers of the population unable to access government programs because of language barriers. Jugalbandi offers all Indians easy access to information in the local language through a mobile phone,” the company said.
Further, the firm explained that the chatbot understands a user’s exact problem in their language and then tries to deliver the right information reliably and cheaply, even if that exists in some other language in a database somewhere.
How does it work?
Microsoft explained that one has to send a text or audio message to a WhatsApp number, which initiates the chatbot. The message is then transcribed to text using the AI4Bharat speech recognition model, then it is translated into English by the Bhashini translation model trained by AI4Bharat. Bhashini was launched by the government in July 2022, to provide language solutions as digital public goods so that people can access the internet and digital services in their own language through emerging technologies, Microsoft explained.
Since Jugalbandi was introduced to villagers in Biwan in early April, it has expanded to cover 10 of India’s 22 official languages and 171 of a total of approximately 20,000 government programs, said Smita Gupta, a lawyer who works for OpenNyAI, a collaborative whose mission is to bring greater access to law and justice through AI. It is one of several groups working on the chatbot.
In the future, such chatbots could be used for any interaction between a person and an institution, whether a patient seeking medical information in Urdu or someone retrieving English-language court documents in Tamil. Once connected to computer interfaces in government departments, citizens could theoretically complete an application just by speaking or typing.