Apple’s Siri, Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or any other voice platform can’t hear or respond to a single African language, but as voice interaction gradually takes over the basic functions, from typing to touching, endlessly organizing For-profit Mozilla, which created the free web browser Firefox: is working to bring voice-integrated technology to the continent.
The Mozilla Common Voice platform, supported by the governments of Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an open source initiative that is already creating voice data sets for the Kiswahili, a language spoken in Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Ugana. , Tanzania and South Sudan.
As Remy Muhire details For the Mozilla Foundation, most of the voice data sets used in voice-activated software are isolated, meaning they are contained in a very small number of companies, stifling innovation.
Common Voice was not started exclusively to serve Africa, it simply wanted to create an open source platform to enable voice activation technology in any of the 7,100 “living” languages currently spoken. To date, they have recorded over 9,000 hours of audio from 160,000 different speakers of 60 different languages, including Welsh, which should help people find directions to “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch”.
The Common voice platform it’s incredibly simple, and as soon as you hit your home page, your voice will be welcomed with open arms in the data sets if you just want to take a moment to record it.
The spirit of togetherness
The Kinyarwanda language is spoken by about 12 million people in Rwanda. Last year, Common Voice organized a hackathon in Kigali to create an initial data set for Kinyarwanda. It is now the fastest growing language on Common Voice, with over 1,700 hours of dispatch.
The response to the hackathon spawned an AI solutions startup called Digital community—Which takes its name from the word Kinyarwanda for a kind of cooperation and community.
On the last Saturday of each month, people take to the streets to participate in community projects such as building or repairing roads; this is Umuganda, and the startup wants to take it into the digital space to create digital infrastructure.
They have created an AI-powered ChatBot called Mbaza that uses the Common Voice Kinyarwanda dataset to allow citizens to access information and guidance while using the local language.
Mbaza offers text-to-speech and speech-to-text capabilities, removing illiteracy barriers for citizens to access important information, such as contacting local governments.
Mozilla recently received a $ 3.4 million grant to expand the Common Voice platform in Africa, and Chenai Chair, Special Adviser for Africa, explained that Kiswahili is just the beginning.
“The next steps are … building community engagement and community support because Common Voice is about people giving their voice and we want to do it well,” the president tells GNN.. “We don’t want to do it in a way that we end up with the same problems that other technology platforms have.”
“Initially we are starting with the East African community … then we want to strategically build those other other African language communities so that they can make use of the Common Voice or Common Voice toolkit.”
The president explains that traditional illiteracy is a problem in the agricultural sector and also stands out among the female half of the African population. Potential applications of Common Voice, such as interacting with increasingly digital government functions, or within the financial sector, such as online banking, will be much easier.
No language was left behind
Language contains much more than just a few unique words or concepts: it acts as a decoding tool for speakers to learn about its history; all its stories, fables and culture.
UNESCO, for example, is promoting voice technology document indigenous knowledge, save indigenous languages and increase access to information.
Like the large voice data sets of Microsoft, Google, and Apple, Wikipedia contains a version of the historical, spiritual, cultural, and indeed linguistic record of the African continent, and here too, community-driven initiatives are at work. to close the gap in access. to information, particularly in African languages.
The WikiAfrica Education Program, created by the Moleskine Foundation, is an effort to foster creativity and interest in culture in African school curricula by teaching students how to prepare, submit, and edit Wikipedia articles, especially in their own languages. .
Adama Sanneh, founder of the Foundation, has helped organize or been part of community-driven events that have seen tens of thousands of Wikipedia entries in different African languages. This was particularly helpful, told GNN, during the early days of the pandemic.
“When we started, the situation was very bleak, there was only one item in Luba, or something like that,” Sanneh said in March. “We launched a campaign to ask people to translate … ten articles on COVID-19 that would lead to creative solutions.”
“In a couple of months we went from one to more than 300 articles in more than 20 different African languages. That gave access to more than 300 million people when we looked at the composition of the languages, ”he said.
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