Meet Cody: The AI that speaks Sinhala, Tamil, and more

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Cody is a nice guy. You might not think that when you first meet him. That’s probably because he always speaks in somewhat of a robotic manner. But when you get to know him you’ll realize it’s only because he’s focused on his job. But what blew me away about Cody was that he was fluent in Sinhala, English, Tamil, Arabic and Simplified Chinese. When was the last time you met an AI that spoke Sinhala, Tamil and English?

Say Hello to Cody

Cody is CogCom’s digital concierge. He describes himself as a conversational AI platform that supports CogCom’s website. Cody allows you to learn more about the company on its website by asking questions as you would from a person. In turn, Cody would do his best to answer your question.

Cody: The AI that can speak multiple languages
Cody: The AI that can speak multiple languages

I tried asking Cody a variety of questions. He was able to tell me that Asiri Fernando was the General Manager of CogCom and how to reach him. He was able to tell me that they have two vacancies at the moment for a Lead Software Engineer & Junior IT Support Technician. And if I wanted to meet them again, I could drop by Orion City.

If the information was on the CogCom website, Cody was able to answer any question. It’s when the information wasn’t on the website, that Cody struggled to answer questions. One example was when I asked for information about Volume, which is the parent company of CogCom.

Cody was unable to provide an answer. This was due to the fact there wasn’t much information about Volume on the CogCom website. But at the end of the day, Cody’s job is to have conversations with the content found on the website. And this, in turn, is the job of every Digital Concierge.

The Digital Concierge Platform

Cody is the product of the Digital Concierge Platform. This platform allows you to create applications which you can interact with using natural language. In other words, you talk about these applications as you would with a person. In turn, they respond to your question by collecting information from different sources to give you an answer.

Lusy the Digital Concierge of Volume
Lusy – Cody’s British sister

Furthermore, these applications can be customized to run on a variety of different platforms and devices. The complexity depends on the device or the platform. They can be as simple as chatbots on Facebook Messenger or as complex as an actual robot. At Infotel 2017, we saw Lusy– Cody’s British sister running on a Google Home.

School kids surround a robot running a digital concierge at Infotel 2017
School kids surround a robot running a digital concierge at Infotel 2017

The platform was deployed in early 2017. At the time of writing, it’s on version 2.4 which supports speech-to-text, short-term memory, retrieving data from multiple sources, and different languages. Currently, a few companies like Artisan have begun using applications built with the platform. At the moment, the platform is exclusively designed for and used by CogCom as the company is a service-oriented one.

How it works behind the scenes

The goal of the digital concierge is to take content and turn it into a conversation. It does this by first taking your question and disambiguating it. For example, if you speak to a digital concierge working at a bank and ask, “Give me the rate.” This could mean the exchange rate or the interest rate. So the concierge would ask which one you want and then give you the answer.

At its core, this is the approach digital concierge’s like Cody adopt when answering questions, irrespective of the language used. Even if you use Singlish, the platform would convert it into Sinhala and then answer your question. Currently, CogCom claims that the platform has a 98% overall accuracy rate.

However, when they initially introduced support for Sinhala and Tamil with Cody, this accuracy rate took a hit. However, Cody was giving incorrect answers. As such, they had to update the model. In case you’re lost, the model refers to the knowledge that Cody and other applications have and their understanding of how we as humans would interact with them to retrieve that knowledge.

As such, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that the model is the heart of any digital concierge application. This is unique to each and every application. However, training this model is a delicate task. It has to be done one step at a time. If not the application can become easily confused. But to ensure its accuracy once trained, the application needs to be constantly monitored and its model updated. And for this task, CogCom has built its own monitoring tool.

But monitoring it for incorrect answers is only one part of the equation. Another part of the equation is accents. This is a common challenge faced by any application that uses voice as a medium. Thankfully, there are plenty of viable speech to text API’s. Yet, whenever the model is used in a different region, CogCom has to monitor its performance and rework it if necessary.

How does Cody compare to a traditional website?

Cody and other digital concierge’s present a new way of presenting information on the internet. While it’s certainly amazing to see an AI on the internet, the real question at the end of the day is, “How effective is it?” The graphs below show the statistics of cogcom.ai before and after Cody was installed.

CogCom.AI Statistics (1)Meet Cody: The AI that speaks Sinhala, Tamil, and more 22Meet Cody: The AI that speaks Sinhala, Tamil, and more 23

As you can see from the data above, utilizing a digital concierge doesn’t necessarily mean your website will go viral overnight. Rather, you’ll still need to look at the basics of SEO and having content that adds value to your audience. But having a digital concierge means that this content on your website can become more easily accessible. However, this is still only one application of the digital concierge and by extension AI. After all, it can run on a robot that could replace the receptionists that greet you. And a such a future may not be so far away.

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