India to fund 100 AI startups, fostering local language translation ecosystem

Indian technical institutes of excellence to be roped in for the mission

Photo by Akshat Vats on Unsplash

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the country’s ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) has formulated a 100-day mission to offer translation services of the vast number of Indian languages, the Indian Wire reports.

India plans to fund 100 startups who will build translation technology using artificial intelligence as part of this mission. The initiative is backed by India’s Science, Technology and Innovation Advisory Council.

According to a KPMG report, ‘Indian Languages-Defining India’s Internet’, India has 30 languages and these languages collectively have over 1,600 dialects. The variety has resulted in inter-communication problems across India and the government is keen to solve this issue which is hindering pan India connectivity.

In the initial stages of the MeitY program, the Parliament and Election Commission records available in nearly 22 Indian languages will be translated to build a database. A senior government official disclosed to local paper, the Economic Times that the process of translation will be driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence tools. Over time, its accuracy will be sharpened.

The official who spoke to ET also mentioned, “Translation services are currently being offered by companies such as Google, but they have their limitations. It is accurate for small sentences, while the results for longer sentences are way off the mark. The matter becomes acutely problematic when legal matter is translated which requires good domain knowledge in the first place.”

The long-term goal of the language translation mission would be speech to speech translation services, and in its early stages the focus will be on text to text translation. The program intends to primarily help in research and teaching in many languages, and also translating videos of technical education lectures into local languages. Three Indian languages—Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati—have been picked to kick-start the first phase of the project. Later the other Indian languages would also be taken up for translation. Approximately USD 63 million has been earmarked for this mission.

MeitY is said to be roping in premier technical institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras; the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad; the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Pune; and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore for the project. The government wants these technical institutes to collaborate and approach companies as part of the project.

The translation database and tools will later be accessible by private companies and startups who would like to reach potential customers in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, according to the media reports. This could be of interest to Chinese and other foreign firms who could use these services to reach a wider audience in the Indian market.