• Merio Jimmy

Indian AI spells hope for South Sudan's languages

Merio Jimmy, Juba

Although South Sudan's official language is English, the nation is a multilingual patchwork of over 60 different languages. From Nilo-Saharan to Niger-Congo language families, there is a huge range of linguistic diversity across the country.

In recent years, South Sudan's move towards urbanisation has exposed many of the issues that accompany a multilingual state. Although great progress has been made, the difficulty of uniting a nation divided by language and tribe is a task that remains to be overcome.

A map illustrating the linguistic makeup of South Sudan.

Fortunately, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) is a useful tool in the struggle towards mutual intelligibility and linguistic centralisation.

This is exemplified in the work of the Indian technology sector, which has seen a number of nascent developments in the fields of communication and language technology.

For South Sudan, the work of Indian Institutes of Technology graduates Akshay Deshraj and Sourabh Gupta provides a glimmer of hope. Deshraj and Gupta gave developed the language start-up vernacular.ai, which offers an artificially-intelligent multilingual voice bot for customer service operations across over 160 dialects with 95% accuracy.

Akshay Deshraj and Sourabh Gupta, founders of vernacular.ai

Speaking to press about the challenges of multilingual societies, Guptae remarked that 'this is the problem that our product addresses - the unique problem of language, by recognising every minute detail, including the accent, gender, speech rate, dialect, sentiment, intent, among other nuances of the customer, through voice'.

A number of South Sudanese commentators have picked up the potential for the pair's product, considering the extent to which commercial, political and civic exchanges from across the country could be enhanced by tailored AI technology.

With regards to real-world application, vernacular.ai has reportedly already begun serving individuals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic across India.

'[The product] offers its customers a superior engagement experience, in a language that they are comfortable speaking in, with a significantly reduced wait time', Gupta said.

Although a significant barrier to vernacular.ai's entry to the South Sudanese market is technology, the rapidly developing nature of the software bodes well for the future of multilingual societies.

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