Bhashini: Bridging the language gap with AI

In our latest episode of the Tech Trailblazer series, we engaged with Mr. Amitabh Nag, CEO of Bhashini, a pioneering platform designed to promote digital inclusivity in India. Bhashini aims to bridge the gap between India’s diverse languages by making information and communication accessible across different linguistic regions. During our conversation, Mr. Nag shared insights into Bhashini’s multifaceted role in promoting linguistic diversity and leveraging AI for societal betterment. He highlighted how Bhashini facilitates language learning and cultural exchange using artificial intelligence.

Additionally, Mr. Nag discussed the platform’s innovative strategies, including its integration of startup innovation and collaboration with government initiatives to enhance citizen services. Furthermore, he explained the impact of transitioning Bhashini to a paid service model on businesses and outlined its plans for future expansion, emphasising its vision for addressing emerging challenges and opportunities in India and globally.

Amitabh Nag

IBT: Can you share insights into Bhashini’s role in promoting linguistic diversity and preserving cultural heritage in India? How does the platform facilitate language learning and cultural exchange across different regions of India?

Amitabh Nag: Bhasini’s primary job is to translate one language to another using digital tools, such as artificial intelligence models, delivered as APIs through the National Hub of Language platform. This allows for voice-to-voice, text-to-text, and printed translation, enabling collaboration, discussion, and innovation without language barriers. This eliminates the burden of learning another language, allowing individuals to work, discuss, and learn in their mother tongue.

In the past, learning English was primarily necessary for professional progress in international domains. However, with the advent of digital tools, linguistic diversity has been preserved. As people adopt and continue to use the language, it will improve over time. Additionally, translation helps exchange literature and cultural items from one society to another, fostering linguistic diversity and cultural exchange.

Linguists deserving of linguistic diversity and cultural exchange are rewarded over time. Although this is a small technical solution, it has significant implications for society, as it impacts linguists and contributes to cultural exchanges. Overall, while Bhasini’s work is technically small, it has significant implications for linguistic diversity and cultural exchanges.

IBT: What innovative strategies has Bhashini implemented to harness artificial intelligence for the betterment of society, particularly in empowering youth with 21st-century skills?

Amitabh Nag: Artificial intelligence is a computer-led model that learns based on available data and delivers outcomes. Innovation comes from the deployment phase, such as speech-to-speech translation. The company has tried to overcome challenges in translation, lag, and data issues by creating more models, pre-processing, and post-processing engines.

The vision with Bhashini is to enable users to do daily tasks without language barriers or the need to learn another language. For example, a student can study in their native language and deposit fees in the evening. If the teacher teaches in English and understands the Gujrati, they can provide instructions in the Gujrati instead of in English. The student can then fill out the fees in their native language, translate, and perform transactions.

For example, a student can study in their native language and deposit fees in the evening. The teacher can teach in English and provide instructions in Gujarati, allowing the student to complete transactions in their native language. This allows the system to adapt to the user’s needs and ensures seamless transactions.

IBT: As Bhashini continues to evolve, how does the platform integrate startup innovation and technology consumption to address societal challenges effectively.

Amitabh Nag: The technology is being developed through partnerships with various government and private sectors to address the problems of language and digital divides. The system enables transcription of speech-to-text and speech-to-speech translation, bridging the digital and literacy divides. This allows users to interact with computers with voice, reimagining the user journey and bringing benefits.

Partners include state governments, central government ministries, and the general public. The goal is to provide a base platform for startups to develop applications, such as the multilingual cluster. Translation APIs are provided, which will use automatic speech recognition, text-to-text translation, and text-to-speech synthesis to provide a multi-lingual transfer solution.

The company is looking for startups to help build solutions that are more customer-oriented and will be used in the future. The goal is to provide a solution that is closer to the customer and create a product system that will be used in the future. By addressing the problem statements and providing a platform for startups to develop applications, the technology aims to bridge the digital and literacy divides.

IBT: In what ways does Bhashini collaborate with government initiatives and welfare schemes to leverage technology for enhancing citizen services and accessibility?

Amitabh Nag: Instead of providing a broad statement, let me share two specific examples of our collaborative efforts. First, there’s the Open Network Data Commerce (ONDC) initiative by the government, which aims to decouple platform-specific e-commerce activities and create a platform-agnostic system for discoverability and transactions. We’ve partnered with ONDC, focusing on multilingual and voice-enabled use cases. We organised a hackathon to explore these use cases, targeting the next 20-30% of the population currently excluded from e-commerce due to digital and language barriers. The solutions identified will be implemented by ONDC and can be adopted by other e-commerce players to expand their reach.

Second, we collaborate with government departments and welfare programmes. For example, the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme transfers funds directly to farmers. We developed a chatbot with the Ministry of Agriculture to assist farmers who encounter issues with their payments. The chatbot can guide farmers through the resolution process, such as linking their Aadhaar card with PAN or updating land records. This streamlines the process, saving farmers from having to visit government offices for answers. These examples illustrate how we work with government initiatives to benefit citizens through enhanced collaboration and integration.

IBT: How will the transition of Bhashini to a paid service model impact businesses utilising its AI translation and database platform?

Amitabh Nag: We are advancing on two or three fronts. Operating the service involves costs, and there’s a commercialization aspect where entities benefit from using the platform. For instance, e-commerce companies increase revenue, gain exposure, and enhance brand recall. Consequently, they pay for these advantages.

On the other hand, there’s the Bhasini app, a general-purpose application for translation and other services, accessible to all. We are currently categorizing services based on their revenue potential and essential utility. This categorization guides our approach to commercialization and monetization moving forward.

IBT: How does Bhashini envision contributing to India’s digital infrastructure push, considering its role in leveraging technology for societal development and economic growth?

Amitabh Nag: Obviously, Bhashini is a digital infrastructure that uses open-source AI models and datasets to create AI models. The platform can be redeployed anywhere and is based on seven to eight languages. Bhashini is the first of its kind in the world, offering voice-based payment transactions and unique language services. The project is funded by the government and is a country’s digital infrastructure, providing a platform for voice-based payment transactions. The platform also supports language services, some of which are unique to Bhashini due to its focus on use cases. Bhashini is a country’s digital infrastructure, making it a valuable resource for the future.

IBT: Can you discuss Bhashini’s plans for future expansion and its vision for leveraging technology to address emerging challenges and opportunities in India? Could you elaborate on Bhashini’s platform’s contributions to the advancement of artificial intelligence on a global scale?

Amitabh Nag: AI has been democratised through crowdsourcing and data collection, but there is still much work to be done in terms of specific use cases. The company has a charter full of use case deployments with applications to ensure people can use AI in all walks of life. However, the system requires learning a different language to function effectively. To tune the system to be a multilingual setup, translation may be necessary at every joint where there is interaction and communication.

The plan is to ensure that translation is inflicted at every step to maintain linguistic diversity and ensure collaboration and communication in society. This will be achieved within six to eight months. As more complex solutions are explored, the bottom line remains to keep AI close to our type of society, work, and diversity.

Currently, the company has done about 20-30 use cases, but it is estimated that this number could increase to 500 in the immediate future. The goal is to keep AI within our type of society, work, and diversity, ensuring that it remains relevant and accessible to all.

Mr. Amitabh Nag, CEO of Bhashini, is a thought leader & executioner with over 30 years of experience in the information technology industry.  He has been associated with renowned companies like HP Inc., and TCS in multiple roles.

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