This is a Short Note.
Amazon’s Alexa, an intelligent personal assistant, discriminates. It struggles on my nice Nigerian accent. It gets so bad that most times I just give up. Sure, it is not Alexa’s problem. It is also not my problem. But someone has to make it easy for me to participate in the voice-activated ecosystem.
My accent is truly Nigerian. I keep working to make sure I do not lose it. It gives me confidence and I like it when people ask me: Are you from Nigeria? I work on it making sure that I keep the vowels in the most purest of way.
But since I got Echo/Alexa, that accent seems to be on its own. I used to ask for “redy made” clothe instead of “already made” clothe, many years ago in primary school. I knew I ate many “biscuit bones” when I had in mind “brisket bones”. Coming with that background, I am making life harder for Alexa.
There is a huge problem. With virtually no participation from our region in this space, Paris, Silicon Valley, London will train for their voices. The Voice AI race may just forget the Nigerian accent. Everything we dream about voice AI could stall. This is one of those areas where we can be left behind despite the huge opportunity voice offers to Nigeria.
We like to talk. We rarely enjoy writing. In short, without colonization, it is possible Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba would not be in written forms today. But now, Voice AI systems are coming to our domain (yes, talking), but our accent could hinder progress.
If you are dreaming, there is a business opportunity here. After all, BBC has gone pidgin. Alexa needs to interpret that also. This is huge because in the next ten years, translators will be gone like typists and our phones will do translations synchronously. The question is this: Will Nigerians be part of that? Only our entrepreneurs can help, because that is not a Silicon Valley problem.