N Chandrababu Naidu is currently in his fourteenth year as Andhra Pradesh’s chief minister. For the first 13 years, which were spread across two stints, he resorted to the time-consuming approach of seeking a report from bureaucrats every time he wanted updates about a particular district or the status of a welfare scheme. But since last February, he has been simply asking Alexa, Amazon’s digital voice assistant, to spell out the statistics.
Beyond the chief minister’s office, voice assistants are becoming ubiquitous in India across smartphones and connected homes. The likes of Alexa and its peers such as Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby and Microsoft’s Cortana are accomplishing a wide variety of tasks such as hailing a cab, calling a friend, sending a message, and playing songs.
At enterprises, voice-enabled bots are handling core functions in areas such as enterprise resource planning, human resource management and to support business intelligence or run banking operations. Typically, these functions include generating proactive reports, citing anomalies and boosting efficiency of employees.
The vast majority of technology majors have been running R&D programmes for voice computing and are launching commercial products as well.
“Voice computing went mainstream in 2018, gaining more prominence among consumers and enterprises,” said Vivian Gomes, vice president and head of marketing & inside sales at CSS Corp.
In fact, at one million utterances a week, more people summon Alexa in India than anywhere else in the world. And at least one user says “I love you, Alexa” every minute, according to Puneesh Kumar, country manager for Alexa experiences and devices at Amazon India.
The current boom has come on the back of two decades of experimentation by the industry, according to Puneet Gupta, chief technology officer of digital product engineering services company GlobalLogic’s India division.
“Voice assistants can be fundamentally broken down into two key technology challenges. One, converting voice to text and two, interpreting the text for the intent,” he said.