Fueled by the inspiration to enable the man in Bongo-Soe and other areas in Ghana who have not been to school and do not speak English to be able to communicate with digital tools and technology or even with fellows, thus breaking the language barrier that currently stands in the Ghanaian society, Dr Paul Azunre sets his sights on Khaya.
According to the famed Computer Scientist cum musician, he wants to be able to communicate with the people back in his village Bongo-Soe in the Upper East Region who have never been to school. He said he never had the chance to learn the Frafra (Gurune) language but that is his root and he wants to learn the language and it is Khaya that can power that.
Speaking about Ghana NLP and the mission to save the Ghanaian culture, he said, “Ghana Natural Language Processes, yeah, it is a group formed to make sure that Ghanaian languages are being studied with these new methods, these new artificial intelligence methods. So as you know, everything we do now is on the internet, everything is digital, is on our phones, right.
“So our systems need to understand how we speak. For instance, we can talk to the SIRI[Apple’s virtual assistant] so that they can understand or turn on the light. But nowadays the computers don’t understand our languages. They only understand English and maybe some famous languages. So this is important because in the future everything is going to be digital. So if we don’t convert our languages, languages which you know language is tightly tied to culture if you don’t convert it into a digital form, essentially we will disappear.
“So you can think about it as a way of ensuring that our culture continues to persist in the new digital era and also of course this means that we’re going to be able to use the tools better. Of course, there are opportunities for jobs and innovations and improvement in human life. Right, just healthcare, easier for people to go into communities communicate with the people they’re taking care of, know what their issues and those kinds of things.”
He said though they only have five languages in Khaya now including Twi, Ga, Ewe, Dagbani and Yoruba, a lot is being done in the background. They are working on Frafra, Dagaare and Bole and more languages. He admitted that it takes a lot of time and people should be patient with them[Ghana NLP] if your language is not yet added. It will soon be added as it is their dream to capture all the languages in Ghana.
Speaking on opportunities at Ghana NLP, he noted that there are several opportunities for young Ghanaians including learning opportunities, mentorship and chances to get scholarships or jobs owing to recommendations by the team members. So people can join and get experience in machine learning and software engineering among other things. He added that apart from the opportunities to learn, you could also use the tools they are building in your own projects which will benefit you.