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Salma is the Arabic AI assistant taking on Siri and Alexa
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Salma is the Arabic AI assistant taking on Siri and Alexa

Salma is the Arabic AI assistant taking on Siri and Alexa
Tech
Disclaimer: Founders of Mawdoo3. Photo courtesy of Mawdoo3

Ahmed Gabr

 

The future of technology is personal. Everybody is familiar with “Google it” as a simple answer to almost any question, but the emerging generation of smartphone users is getting used to a new personal way of getting their questions answered: conversational voice assistants.

Voice searches will account for 50 percent of search requests by 2020 globally. Because of technical challenges and personal preferences, it has yet to catch on in the MENA region, but it is likely to take the region by storm eventually.

Mawdoo3 is a wiki-style online Arabic content publisher based in Jordan that is taking advantage of the artificial intelligence (AI) revolution to develop an Arabic-language AI-powered, cloud-based voice assistant called Salma. The team has secured a $13.5-million fund led by UK-based Kingsway and US-based Endure Capital for the project as well as for the web platform as a whole.

The beta version of Salma is planned for the end of this year. When it is released, Jordanian co-founders Rami Qawasmi and Mohammad Jaber say that it will help “bring relevant (Arabic) content to users from trusted sources and make it reachable through a friendly user experience.”

“Over the past few years, computing power has increased rapidly,” said Tarek Kabrit, the co-founder of Seez, a mobile app that employs AI in the automotive space. “This, coupled with smartphone penetration, allowed us to collect more and more data, which created the perfect storm for AI to bloom. We moved from smartphones, to cloud computing, to big data, and now to AI, which benefits from all of these past trends.”

Salma is designed to be an Arabic version of Siri and Alexa, the popular virtual voice assistants developed by Apple and Amazon, respectively. Salma will be deployed to answer factoid-based questions from Mawdoo3’s platform, thus adding a new channel for consuming Arabic content. Salma will also be used as an Arabic voice-interface service for businesses in multiple sectors, including travel, automobile, telecom and electronics.

Since its inception in 2010, Mawdoo3 has been working on generating online Arabic content covering a range of topics, including literature, lifestyle, health, education, and food. Mawdoo3 currently boasts more than 150,000 articles and 45 million unique monthly visitors.

According to Al-Qawasmi, Mawdoo3 is now building on previous investments in Arabic natural language processing (NLP) to create Salma, enabling users to reach content in easier ways “as we expand our content and the channels through which we deliver that content to the Arabic-speaking world online.”

According to sources at Mawdoo3, the digital voice assistant will be able to speak Arabic, understand all Arabic dialects; answer factoid-based questions; tell the weather, news, and time; and provide daily activity reminders.

While the team at Mawdoo3 believe they still have a lot to offer, they said that the focus will be on Arabic NLP toolkits and Salma itself, furthering their mission to enhance the Arabic language through content and technology.

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