Telkom’s AI system called Izwe.AI is changing the way customer service works. It takes spoken words in English and local languages and turns them into written text.
Izwe.AI, which means ‘nation”, is special because it can understand how people with South African accents speak.
According to Dr Mmaki Jantjies, Telkom’s Innovation and Transformation Officer, Izwe.AI was developed to celebrate African languages.
Most language technologies are designed for different languages and not much effort has been put into supporting the specific languages of South Africa.
“So from translation perspective, it’s so important for us because a simple example: In call centres, a lot of conversations are in English, and sometimes people then switch to our African languages.
“It’s very important for us to translate the customer experience and show that when we review how we interact with our customers, we have a very good customer relationship.”
Jantjies explained that this was the driving force behind Telkom’s investment in the technology, which the AI team is actively pushing along with other technologies.
The Izwe.ai platform was developed by Telkom in collaboration with Enlabeler, a data labelling company.
Enlabeler offers an end-to-end solution that integrates with open source tools and unifies the machine learning journey across data types. Reducing complexity, saving time and ensuring data quality is maximised for the successful deployment of your machine learning model.
The company has assembled a group of specialists in machine learning, data science, software engineering, operations and African languages. Their mission is to make accurate transcriptions easily accessible to everyone.
The spark of inspiration behind Enlabeler was ignited when Founder and CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Esther Hoogstad wrote a research paper on how the SA tech sector could help create digitally enabled micro-jobs for the underutilised youth demographic. In the process, Hoogstad met two enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Pieter Boon and Koen Bonenkamp, in the AI and Data Science industry, which led to the official birth of Enlabeler.
While Telkom has not invested directly in Enlabeler, it believes that the company’s agility makes it better suited for innovation.
“So large corporates don’t innovate as quickly as some of these small companies,” Jantjies said.
“We partner with them especially on key verticals that we feel we haven’t gained a foothold in those areas. We also partner with them to push some of the products and innovations we are developing.”