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Alexa learns Italian



Alexa learns Italian

In Turin there are about fifty people who teach Italian to Alexathe voice assistant of Amazon. Which with 28.5% of the global market is the most popular in the world and it is also very successful in our country. Also thanks to naturalness with which he responds, to the jokes and idioms he knows how to use. All the work of the Amazon research and development team in Piedmont.

Alexa’s Italian school, with a team of expert teachers

To locate“A product always requires a lot of work. It is not enough to translate the instruction booklet, it is necessary to understand how to insert it in the culture and society of arrival. But the situation becomes much more complicated if the product in question responds and converses with people. For this reason, the Amazon Research and Development Center in Turin has been running for three years hire the best professionals so that they become real masters of Italian for Amazon’s artificial intelligence.

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As he explains to Repubblica Daniele Ambertithe manager of the Turin center: “Three years ago, when we started, the most difficult challenge was finding some skills, in particular Computational Linguist, figures between the computer scientist, the Data Scientist and the linguist “. But in total there are now just under fifty people in Turin, with a large number of experts working remotely since before the pandemic.

Figures that they balance computer science with the philosophy of language, to create the most natural user experience possible. That Amazon “cultivates” with a close relationship with the Polytechnic of Turin and other Italian universities. Because these hybrids between the engineer and the linguist need a truly rich education, both on a scientific and humanistic level.

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Understanding and responding naturally

Anyone who has lived abroad knows that the language does not live on grammars which are studied at school, nor in the precise language of foreign newspapers and books. To fully understand you need to understand the subtexts, half-truncated sentences, regionalisms and jargon. For this reason, part of the work of the professionals from Turin who teach Italian to Alexa is to make her understand what we are saying.

The team also takes care of taking accents into account, first testing AI understanding with some employees, then using AI tests.Amazon Preview. In addition to intonation and inflections, they also teach understanding regionalisms such as “switch off” and “call to Mary”. Not only understands grammatical errors and plays them but the team makes sure it doesn’t sound too perfect, too robotic. For example, in Italy you pronounce sentences in English (for example the title of a song) with Italian accent.

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The learning process is continuous, with employees who listen to conversations in anonymous contexts to understand if Alexa understood correctly and responded appropriately (users can choose not to send the recordings to improve Alexa). A process necessary to continuously improve understanding. Not only in terms of language but also in terms of services provided. If a user doesn’t get what he wants (for example Alexa plays a German radio instead of the Italian version of the same broadcaster), he repeats the question specifying. Alexa can like this learn what users want when they make too vague requestsfinding the right information with less input.

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Alexa in Italian has a different personality

Another of the adjustments made by the team of Turin professionals is in the cure the personality of artificial intelligence. The general guidelines that apply to about half of the world’s population are: courteous And self-deprecating. They are appreciated traits. But each regional team has the ability to change Alexa’s personality to make users in that country like it more.

For example, the team decides that in Italy Alexa’s favorite dish is amatriciana, who knows some poems and idioms. They teach jokes which are written in Milan by the team of Gianmaria Visconti, Alexa Country Manager for Italy, Spain and France. “Dead jokes, banal and discounted word games, which may not be funny, but are good for everyone. The funniest jokes often touch on topics not suitable for the family or a large audience. We are therefore limited, but by choice: also in politics Alexa will never take a stand“. No AI satire.

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Italian is also the selection of many contents in our country, from recipes to news. That for News Stream includes sources such as ANSA, Tgcom24 and Rai. And therefore I do not include the “generalist web”, preferring accredited institutions. And the same is true when asking for information, for example on vaccines: Alexa searches for data fromWHO or the Ministry of Health.

Italianize“Alexa is a complex process and requires the work of a lot of experts, using a set of machine learning and programming to provide a service that is as natural and complete as possible. And anyone who has tested Echo smart speakers, or used Alexa at home, in the car, or at work, can confirm that it’s working. Though on jokes maybe there is still some work to be done.