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Tuesday, 27 August, 2002, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Hindi chatbot breaks new ground
Close-up of sound wave
The software converts sound waves into speech
BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

A computer chat program that speaks Hindi could open up computers to India's illiterate millions.

Computer science students in Chandigarh, 248 kilometres (154 miles) from Delhi, have developed an interactive software program called Deepti which can converse intelligently with people in natural language.

"The good thing about Deepti is that it is suitable for the Indian environment," explained Ritvik Sahajpal, one of the students who developed the software.

"Deepti speaks in Hindi and since the majority of people in India are computer illiterate and don't speak English, this feature is really great," he told the BBC programme Go Digital.

Intelligent conversation

Some webpages are adopting chatbot software to make their sites more interactive and friendly. But most chatbots rely on a knowledge of English.


Users can install it on their computers and have fun chatting with Deepti

Ritvik Sahajpal, computer science student
Mr Sahajpal and his fellow students wanted to develop one that could be used in India that spoke in Hindi.

They believe that bots like Deepti could be used to make government services more accessible.

"We can put it at some of the places like government offices, where it can replace the enquiry counter or things like that," said Rohit Kumar, one of the computer science students working on the project.

"People can communicate with it via voice and it can provide them help to get the right official forms."

The students believe the software could be combined with touchscreen technology to make computers accessible to people with little or no knowledge of PCs.

Freely available

Deepti could also be used on home computers.

Keyboard close-up
Speech could replace the keyboard
"Users can install it on their computers and have fun chatting with Deepti. As Deepti chats more and more with the user, it will acquire more knowledge about the user and become more and more intelligent", said Mr Sahajpal.

The students at Punjab Engineering College are working on improving the sound quality of Deepti, as Hindi is a language with many sound variations.

But they are optimistic that the chatbot will be ready in three or four months and they intend to make their research available for free as open source software.

"If you want to encourage further research this is the way to go," said Mr Sahajpal.

"If you don't make the source code of Deepti available to people, they would not be able to improve it any further and it would be stuck at the place where we left it."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Deepti speaks
Listen to the chatbot
See also:

28 Feb 01 | Science/Nature
01 Sep 00 | Science/Nature
28 Jan 99 | Science/Nature
10 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
15 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
Internet links:


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