Indian Government Service Voice Assistant Set for Release
The Indian government is rolling out its voice assistant for government services. The Umang (Unified Mobile Application for New-Age Governance) service relies on conversational AI startup Senseforth to answer questions and provide government services in both voice assistant and chatbot form a year after the Indian government chose the AI developer for the role.
The Indian government recently launched the Umang app and website as a pilot with limited capabilities. The app and website can now help users access info and services from about 13 government agencies. Citizens can use Umang to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot and download their vaccine certificate and check a user’s pension amount, scholarship status, and national insurance claim status, but only in the standard mouse-and-keyboard method. The pilot test for Umang included a text-based chatbot which half a million users asked more than one million questions. Voice commands will soon handle all of those tasks as the government continues to augment its capabilities and widen Umang’s remit. The voice assistant will only speak Hindi and English at first, but the plan is to have Umang speak around 10 of the most widely spoken languages in India by the end of the year, such as Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
India’s Ministry of Electronics and IT picked Senseforth last year for having the lowest bid of the submitting companies capable of fulfilling the contract. At the time, Senseforth claimed the Umang voice AI would converse with users about more than 100 government services. The Indian government’s solicitation outlined a voice assistant equivalent to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant that could not only understand many languages but respond appropriately to intent and emotion.
The voice assistant is part of India’s larger AI strategy, including a WhatsApp chatbot focused on COVID-19 that more than 30 million people accessed, breaking the record for most users of a chatbot on the platform. Umang is one of several national and municipal conversational AI projects for government services that have begun popping up. For instance, Estonia will launch its Bürokratt AI virtual assistant this year to help Estonians access benefits and complete tasks through voice conversations. Meanwhile, Morocco has a new virtual assistant to help citizens pay their taxes, and the city of Dubai debuted the ‘Fares’ AI as a voice assistant on the city’s hotline or as a chatbot through Dubai’s official WhatsApp number.
“Governments around the world are going on the digitalization journey and potentially a huge part of the dreams of people could be left out if they don’t access the citizen services that are provided on digital platforms,” Senseforth.ai CEO Shridhar Marri said in a statement to the Economic Times. “Conversational AI is one way to address this by using local language input through voice or text, and then providing the same level of service without them having to actually use a mobile app or go to a website.”