How African Languages Are left Out When It Comes To Voice Recognition Technology

How African Languages Are left Out When It Comes To Voice Recognition Technology


When Internet connectivity is discussed in Africa, the conversation usually revolves around those who have access and those who don’t, namely the digital divide. But there’s also a language divide, a gap that’s been widening especially when it comes to voice recognition technology, a new study says.

As voice-based interfaces like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Home assistant become ubiquitous, more people are using smart speakers to shop, set reminders, and get answers to simple but essential questions like the weather. Research shows half of all searches will be voice-based by 2020, and this massive pivot towards voice commands is set to create an entire ecosystem of applications and interactions.

African languages
Photo by Andres Urena on Unsplash

From Quartz. Story by Abdi Latif Dahir

Yet research by the early-stage accelerator Digital Financial Services Lab and research consultancy Caribou Digital shows developers are focusing much of their efforts on improving English language capabilities and less on languages from developing nations in Africa and Asia. African languages are already disadvantaged online with huge platforms including Twitter and Google AdSense not supporting any African languages.

And even though companies have made enormous advances in Natural Language Processing (NLP), or the ability of computers to comprehend the human voice and language, there’s an emerging divide that relegates low-income populations and less widely-spoken languages to the background. As a result, this disparity will not only create a gap between those who can use this form of artificial intelligence for communications and those who can’t but also hinder users’ abilities to exploit these applications for development interventions like healthcare and finance.

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Read more at Quartz.