From the Viewsroom

Google’s India Digitisation Fund can give vernacular computing a boost

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on July 15, 2020 Published on July 14, 2020

From Kerala to Kashmir, one of the most stubborn stumbling blocks to digital inclusion has been the glaring absence of accessible local language tools

It is refreshing to see that one of the stated objectives of Google’s just-announced $10-billion India Digitisation Fund is to promote local language computing in the country. The search-to-shopping giant’s decision can open up a slew of opportunities for India’s fledgeling, and struggling, language computing market, where most of the good work is done by enthusiastic and enterprising independent developer communities and not exactly by government agencies or IT multinationals. From developing input tools to creating products that cater to the needs of local language users, the most essential services are still attended by a motley crowd of dedicated developers who are incentivised only by their drive for the greater common good. So channelling a dedicated slice of fund from the $10-billion kitty over the course of five or seven years can, if done well, do wonders towards enabling India’s vast multitudes of vernacular users to be part of the country’s digital leapfrog.

 

This means business too. Google’s own estimates suggest that the number of local language users in India will cross 536 million in the next four years, contributing 35 per cent of the $4.4 billion digital advertising spend in the country. According to KPMG’s India’s Digial Future (2019) report, the primary language of media and entertainment consumption in India will be in local languages by 2030 even though the use of English for professional and social mobility has been increasing. Enhancing local language computing can help Digital India in unimaginable ways. From Kerala to Kashmir, one of the most stubborn stumbling blocks to digital inclusion has been the glaring absence of accessible local language tools. Even though India’s villages have seen a growth in the number of smartphones bought, vernacularly-educated rural population still finds it difficult to use the devices to their optimum levels courtesy the unavailability of user-friendly programs in local languages. Similar issues dog the growth in voice-assisted computing, which is still loitering around in urban centres in India. From virtual assistants to chatbots, dedicated local language products and services can do wonder.

That said, Google must shed some of its inhibitions and work with local developer communities by encouraging and incentivising them to work towards collective good and not exactly bring out products that will help the company and data-gorging partners profit beyond limits as many fear would happen.

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Published on July 14, 2020
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