A Note on Vernacular Chatbots

The idea of vernacular chatbots struck me yesterday when I decided to try iki.ai for payment of my electricity bill. Niki is India’s first chat bot for shopping. Shopping with chat bot is totally a different experience where user talks to a bot about what she wants. Following is the complete chat I had with Niki. On the left hand side are Niki’s messages and mine are on right with bold face.

Hi i am Niki! :) I am here to make your life simple & convenient. You can chat with me like you chat with your friend.Can i show you how the booking experience on chat can be 300% faster than other apps ? (in 10 seconds!)

Pay my electricity bill

Hello ! Let me assist you in paying your electricity bill. You can type cancel at any point to exit this conversation Please give me: your electricity provider. For e.g BESCOM


Understood. Picking your electricity provider as Paschim Gujarat Vij Company. I request you to give me: your Customer Account Number. It is 1-11 digits long (Alphanumeric)

*********** (my customer number)

Sure. Picking your Customer Account Number as: *********** I request you to provide: the bill amount.

**** (amount)

Got it. Picking the amount as **** The summary of your order is: Operator: Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Customer Account Number: *********** Amount: **** rs Should I proceed to payment?


Fantastic. Please pay from the below options We have received the payment, going to process the order! You will get a confirmation in the next 5 mins. Thank you, your Electricity bill payment was successful You will receive a confirmation message shortly. It will get reflected within 3-4 business days. Your order id is ****************. For any problems or queries with your order, please email us at support@niki.ai

how are you doing otherwise?

As you can see, Niki is very good at enhancing your shopping experience but when I asked her about her well being she did not bother to reply. Technology can reach those who do not know English with vernacular chatbots. Going a step further, if bots can actually “speak” on phone having real conversation with the user in vernacular, people who cannot read and write can also shop online. There is enough progress in speech recognition for English but local efforts are required for research in vernacular languages to achieve this. There is surely a huge market for this as more than 92% of the population has a mobile phone and only 74% of the population is literate*. There is a clear gap of 18%. That is, more than 238 million people*! * Literacy rate as per 2011 census. References:

  1. List of Countries By Mobile Phone In Use, Wikipedia
  2. Status of Literacy, Census of India 2011, census.gov.in