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Microsoft's AI reaches Indian villages

Merely months have passed since Microsoft and OpenAI unveiled ChatGPT to the world, sparking a fervor among tech enthusiasts and industry titans. Now, the technology that underpins this generative AI is breaking barriers, reaching remote hamlets hundreds of miles away from the tech hubbubs of Seattle and San Francisco.

Jugalbandi, a chatbot built in collaboration by Microsoft, the open-source initiative OpenNyAI and AI4Bharat, backed by the Indian government, is showing signs of progress in redefining information access for villagers in India, offering insights into more than 170 government programs in 10 indigenous languages.

While India is the world's second-largest wireless market, the technological progress witnessed in its cities is starkly absent in smaller towns and villages. Only a meager 11% of the country's populace is proficient in English, with a slight majority of 57% comfortable with Hindi. These communities also grapple with literacy issues, lacking even regular access to conventional media.

"That leaves vast numbers of the population unable to access government programs because of language barriers," Microsoft explained in a blog post.

To bridge this gap, Jugalbandi leverages a platform with near-universal recognition in India: WhatsApp. With the aid of language models from AI4Bharat and reasoning models from Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service, Jugalbandi empowers individuals to pose questions and receive responses in both text and voice, in their local language.

"This time around this technology reaches everybody in the world," said Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella at the company's Build conference Tuesday. "There are two things that stood out for me: Things that we build can in fact make a difference to 8 billion people, not just some small group of people ... and to be able to do that by diffusion that takes days and weeks not years and centuries because we want that equitable growth and trust in technology to protect the fundamental rights that we care about."

Microsoft envisions Jugalbandi expanding its reach, ultimately aiding villagers with a broad spectrum of needs, with India proving to be an ideal ground for the tech titan.

The U.S. tech giant is also furthering its collaborations with numerous Indian enterprises aimed at democratizing information access for the broader populace. One such firm is Gram Vaani. Delhi-based Gram Vaani runs an interactive voice-responsive platform. This system enables volunteers to extend personalized assistance and advice to farmers. The firm says it has amassed 3 million users across northern and central India.