Innovative startups are tapping into the infinite potential of AI and machine learning (ML) in Nepal.
--BY ASHIM NEUPANE
The world has changed to a great extent due to new strides in technology. After the ground shifting changes brought in by the extensive use of computers and smart devices over the last few decades, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and machine learning are now the new tools to unlock future potentials to positively impact the lives of people the world over. Nepal is also witnessing the unfolding of this technology revolution as some creative and geeky techies in the country have taken charge to bring positive changes in the society. Currently, some tech startups seem to be determined to carry on with their initiations in order to enable Nepal to join the global bandwagon of the new technological revolution.
One such notable company is Paaila Technology which has developed a robot named ‘Pari’ for Nepal SBI Bank. The robot is placed in the bank’s Durbarmarg branch. When ‘Pari 1.0’ was launched, it only used to greet customers in the bank. Paaila technology has upgraded the robot to ‘Pari 2.0’, and now it identifies customers through facial recognition and can greet customers with their name. ‘Pari’ is the first commercial humanoid robot developed in Nepal.
Similarly, the company has also developed robots named ‘Ginger’, which are deployed in Naulo Restaurant in Durbarmarg. The robots work as the waiters in the restaurant. It can take orders and serve food to the customers. According to Dipkamal Bhusal, managing director at Paaila Technology, the response after developing robots ‘Pari’ and ‘Ginger’ has been amazing, and the company has received several orders for ‘Ginger’ from European and Middle East countries.
Apart from robotics, the company is also working on language processing, speech synthesis and recognition. “We are working on language processing and speech recognition. This will help visually impaired people as the computer-generated system can read texts in the Nepali language. The technology will also be able to convert Romanised Nepali to Devanagari script,” says Bhusal.
Fusemachines Nepal is another startup which mainly works on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The company is currently working on different projects including handwriting recognition. According to the company’s Senior Director of AI Services Subhash Manandhar, the handwriting recognition service can be beneficial to banking institutions. “It will help the organisations to digitally enter the know-your-customer (KYC) form, among other uses. Also, the technology will help to transcribe Nepali audio files,” says Manandhar.
Likewise, Fusemachines, in partnership with Artificial Intelligence of Development (AID), is organising the AI Expo in August. “The expo is the first of its kind in Nepal. The expo will bridge the gap between the academic and business communities. It will help connect talents to digital opportunities while contributing to skills enhancement. The event will also be beneficial in providing an insight into the deployment of AI across different verticals that the industry can learn and benefit from,” Manadhar adds.
A Boon for Agriculture and Transportation
According to Dipkamal Bhusal, co-founder and managing director at Paaila Technology, the agriculture sector of the country will grow at a significant rate through the development of machine learning. “The technology can automatically detect the nature of the soil and analyse the amount of water and pesticides needed for the crop. After automation, robots and drones can spray pesticides, irrigate the field and can plant crops,” Bhusal said, adding this can increase productivity at an unbelievable rate.
While the government’s record keeping still runs traditionally, Subhash Manadhar, senior director of AI Services at Fuse Machines Pvt Ltd, says that if the government system is digitised machine learning can extract different data that can be beneficial for proper planning. “The technology can also be used in the transportation sector of the country. If the data and routes are digitised, the computer-based system can generate new routes which can be beneficial during heavy traffic and during other situations,” he said.
At the moment, there is no support from the government and the startups are doing things on their own to nurture the nascent areas of AI, robotics and machine learning. According to Bhusal, it is difficult for startup companies to work without support from the government. “The government can exempt or lower custom duty to encourage startup companies in Nepal. Also, it can remove taxes for startup companies for a certain period which will help the sector grow,” he says, adding importing different raw materials from foreign countries with high custom rates increases the cost of the product.
Likewise, Manadhar says that the government system is yet to be digitised in Nepal. “Incorporating machine learning is not possible without digitisation,” he mentions, adding that the government should focus on digitising the system.
What is Machine Learning?
When someone posts a photo of users on Facebook, they are notified as ‘somebody has posted a photo of you’. Even if the users are not tagged in the photos, or they are not friends with the individuals who posted the photo, Facebook notifies the users about the posted pictures. This is an example of machine learning.
Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence, where a computer system is programmed for self-learning to understand the command of the user. The system analyses the algorithms to perform the task effectively. Be it commanding your phone through a voice message or browsing search engines or automation in industries; machine learning is applied in every possible sector.
Companies are always looking to improve machine-learning technologies. For instance, the technology has made it possible for email service providers to transfer all spam mails into the spam folder automatically. It is said that spam emails make up to 60 percent of the global email traffic.
Facebook analyses the social media browsing behaviour of its users. Therefore, while browsing Facebook, users see videos and posts relevant to him/her on the news feed. Similarly, smartphones analyse the words typed by the user, and it recommends words and even sentences to users.
Similarly, E-commerce platforms such as Alibaba and Amazon use robots in their warehouses to manage products. The technology has also been used in the education sector to improve the adaptive learning of students. Meanwhile, automation in the industries is also a part of machine learning. The technology has been beneficial in the industries that run perpetually.