“Only 18% of the South African population speaks English at home. It is clear that English is the primary language of instruction and trade, not of understanding! The issue is that almost all digital services are offered in English, making them inaccessible to the majority of the country.”
The way Thapelo Nthite describes the differences between spoken and understood language, and structural, transactional vernacular, makes it feel a tad bit churlish to describe Botlhale Artificial Intelligence as filling a gap in the market.
Botlhale is an Artificial Intelligence company that aims to increase the application of AI systems in South Africa, and the motivation driving their young co-founder and chief executive is simple: to eliminate language as a barrier to entry for basic digital services.
Nthite points out, “Although there has been a lot of research done in human language technology systems for South African languages, there is still a lack of practical implementation of these systems. We are still far behind in this space, which means that people who speak South African languages are missing out on new technologies that could aid and simplify their lives.”
“Through my research and work at Botlhale I want to see people interact with service providers through digital platforms in languages they understand and trust using text and speech.”
Combining his Babelian endeavours with his studies is impressive enough, but Nthite has no shortage of motivation, wanting to enhance African representation and considerations into the global Artificial Intelligence space. “You must strive to have the courage to be vulnerable in a world where everyone wants to appear strong, confident and as if they know what they’re doing. That vulnerable feeling of stepping out of your comfort zone is the birthplace of innovation.“