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Google announces a range of features to help break down language barriers

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In July, at the Google for India event, Google outlined their vision to make the Internet helpful for a billion Indians, and power the growth of India’s digital economy. One critical area that needed to be overcome is the challenge of India’s vast linguistic diversity. Google realised early on that there was no way to simplify this challenge – to bring the potential of the internet within reach of every user in India, Google had to invest in building products, content and tools in every popularly spoken Indian language.

And so Google today announces a range of features that will help deliver an even richer language experience to millions across India.

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Helping computer systems understand Indian languages at scale

The team at Google Research India has announced a new machine learning model to help better understand human language. It is known as MuRIL (Multilingual Representations for Indian Languages). Among many other benefits of this powerful multilingual model that is specifically aimed at scaling across Indian languages, MuRIL also provides support for transliterated text such as when writing Hindi using Roman script, which was something missing from previous models of its kind.

One of the many tasks MuRIL is good at, is determining the sentiment of the sentence. For example, “Achha hua account bandh nahi hua” would previously be interpreted as having a negative meaning, but MuRIL correctly identifies this as a positive statement. Or take the ability to classify a person versus a place: ‘Shirdi ke sai baba’ would previously be interpreted as a place, which is wrong, but MuRIL correctly interprets it as a person.

MuRIL has been made an open source, and it is currently available to download from the TensorFlow Hub, for free. MuRIL will be the next big evolution for Indian language understanding, forming a better foundation for researchers, students, startups, and anyone else interested in building Indian language technologies.

MuRIL currently supports 16 Indian languages as well as English — the highest coverage for Indian languages among any other publicly available model of its kind.

Easily toggling between English and Indian language results

Four years ago Google made it easier for people in states with a significant Hindi-speaking population to flip between English and Hindi results for a search query, by introducing a simple ‘chip’ or tab they could tap to see results in their preferred language. In fact, since the launch of this Hindi chip and other language features, there has been more than a 10X increase in Hindi queries in India.

Google is now making it easier to toggle Search results between English and four additional Indian languages: Tamil, Telugu, Bangla and Marathi.

Understanding which language content to surface, when

Typing in an Indian language in its native script is typically more difficult, and can often take three times as long, compared to English. As a result, many people search in English even if they really would prefer to see results in a local language they understand.

Over the next month, Google Search will start to show relevant content in supported Indian languages where appropriate, even if the local language query is typed in English. This functionality will also better serve bilingual people who are comfortable reading both English and an Indian language. It will roll out in five Indian languages: Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu.

Enabling people to use apps in the language of their choice

Just like you use different tools for different tasks, people often select a specific language for a particular situation. Rather than guessing preferences, Google launched the ability to easily change the language of Google Assistant and Discover to be different from the phone language.

Google is now extending this ability to Maps, where users can quickly and easily change their Maps experience into one of nine Indian languages, by simply opening the app, going to Settings, and tapping ‘App language’. This will allow anyone to search for places, get directions and navigation, and interact with the Map in their preferred local language.

Homework help in Hindi (and English)

Meaning is also communicated with images: and this is where Google Lens can help. From street signs to restaurant menus, shop names to signboards, Google Lens lets you search what you see, get things done faster, and understand the world around you—using just your camera or a photo. In fact more people use Google Lens in India every month than in any other country worldwide. As an example of its popularity, over 3 billion words have been translated in India with Lens in 2020.

Lens is particularly helpful for students wanting to learn about the world. If you’re a parent, you’ll be familiar with your kids asking you questions about homework. About stuff you never thought you’d need to remember, like… quadratic equations.

Now, right from the Search bar in the Google app, you can use Lens to snap a photo of a math problem and learn how to solve it on your own, in Hindi (or English). To do this, Lens first turns an image of a homework question into a query. Based on the query, this feature will show step-by-step guides and videos to help explain the problem.

Speaking on the sidelines of the event to launch these features, Sanjay Gupta, Country Head & Vice President, Google India, said, “We hope that today’s announcements provide a flavor of the depth of work underway — and which is required — to really make a universally potent and accessible Internet a reality. That said, the Internet in India is the sum of the work of millions of developers, content creators, news media and online businesses, and it is only when this effort is undertaken at scale by the entire ecosystem, that we will help fulfil the truly meaningful promise of the billionth Indian coming online.”

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