Voice user interface design for multilingual emerging markets: lessons from research and development projects in South Africa

Thursday, June 28, 2012 - 15:00 - 16:00
Gerhard B. van Huyssteen

Gerard B. van Huyssteen, Aditi Sharma Grover and Karen Calteaux

Multilingual emerging markets hold many opportunities for the application of spoken language technologies, such as automatic speech recognition (ASR) or test-to-speech (TTS) technologies in interactive voice response (IVR) systems. However, designing such systems requires an in-depth understanding of the business drivers and salient design decisions pertaining to these markets.

South Africa is a prototypical example of a developing world nation, where numerous communities face many barriers to information access, including infrastructure, distance, literacy and language. IVRs and other voice user interface services could play an important role in addressing these barriers. and bridging the information gap as mobile phones are by far the most widespread form of ICTs in developing world regions. Hence, South Africa poses interesting challenges to and opportunities in the multilingual IVR market. Nonetheless, there are very few companies specialising in multilingual IVR design in SA, and very little local research in this domain is available. The VUI designer is therefore left in the dark and often has to make design decisions based on intuition.

In our current research programme we attempt to address these needs and gaps from two angles, viz. a business analysis angle, and a voice user-interface design angle. On the one hand we are trying to understand the business drivers in multilingual emerging markets, and on the other hand how these drivers influence design choices. This presentation will introduce these two angles with support from our research and development work, including an investigation into 34 selected South African IVRs, as well as research and development projects for a government department and a veterinarian company. We find that very few IVRs have a multilingual offering, and that only a handful has some form of speech input (which is only available in English). Persona and gender choice are low on design priorities for South African IVRs, and cost is the major driver for multilingual IVRs overshadowing the many positive business drivers in support of multilingual IVRs.

The presentation will be given by Prof Gerhard van Huyssteen. Van Huyssteen is professor in Afrikaans morphology and language technology at North-West University (Potchefstroom, South Africa). He is also owner of a small start-up company, Trifonius, which specialises in voice user interface design, as well as technologies for Afrikaans and other South African languages. In collaboration with numerous partners, he has been closely involved in a variety of voice user interface projects, including projects for government, South Africa’s largest veterinarian company, a large banking group in South Africa, as well as an international telecommunications company.

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