In today’s digital era, language has become a major obstacle for non-native English speakers, limiting their access to digital services. Botlhale AI is a company that creates multi-lingual conversational bots to help businesses mitigate the language barrier of conversational AI and connect with their customers better. In an interview with Thapelo Nthite, the Co-Founder and CEO of Botlhale AI, he shared his personal experience with the language barrier that led him and his co-founders to establish Botlhale AI.
Nthite, originally from Phokeng in Rustenberg, studied mechatronics at the University of Cape Town and carried out his research in the electrical engineering department at the master’s level on speech-to-text under-resourced languages. He was looking at creative ways of augmenting speech data that’s used for training AI-based transcription models. From this research, he founded Botlhale AI, which has become a big part of his life.
One day, Nthite’s grandmother was seeking help from him to load prepaid airtime on her phone. However, the default language of the phone app was in English, and Nthite’s grandmother, who only spoke Setswana, a native language of Botswana and South Africa, was unable to operate the phone. This incident made Nthite realize that his grandmother was not alone in facing such linguistic obstacles. Dealing with language barriers has become a frequent and familiar problem, especially in a culturally diverse and multi-lingual country like South Africa.
Nthite and his co-founders, Xolisani Nkwentsha and Sange Maxaku, took it upon themselves to address this issue, and this eventually led them to establish Botlhale AI. Today, Botlhale AI is one of the early proponents of conversational AI in South African languages, helping businesses engage their employees and customers in languages they can understand and trust. Botlhale AI has developed a low-code bot builder that allows businesses to build, train, test and launch conversational AI in native African languages. The platform currently supports seven South African languages, namely English, IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sesotho, Setswana, and Sepedi.
Botlhale AI’s conversational bot can differentiate between different dialects of the same language, thanks to the company’s unique automatic speech recognition (ASR), text-to-speech, and natural language processing (NLP) tools. Businesses can use application programming interfaces (APIs) to connect this conversational bot developed on Botlhale AI’s platform with their existing consumer communication channels and other chat applications like WhatsApp, Telegram, and Messenger.
Botlhale AI’s low-code bot builder platform has also helped businesses to develop commercial applications like African language learning and subtitle-generating solutions, among others. Nthite shares the story of a client who had hit a major language barrier when managing a huge volume of customer phone calls and queries. After onboarding with Botlhale AI, the client was able to reduce their support overhead and draw analytics from each call.
Botlhale AI’s virtual assistant, Naledi, is a cutting-edge tool developed for South African banking institutions. It allows consumers to interact with their banks on WhatsApp or other communication platforms they are already using. While Naledi serves as the prime example of what businesses can achieve with Botlhale AI’s low-code bot builder platform, the potential for the platform is limitless.