‘We have put the project on pause’: Aliya smart column stuck at concept stage

Meanwhile, the Bashkir "Һомай” is being translated into Mari language

‘We have put the project on pause’: Aliya smart column stuck at concept stage
Photo: a screenshot by realnoevremya.ru from alyamusic.tilda.ws

The smart column “hомай”, which speaks Bashkir, has already reached the kindergartens of Bashkortostan. Its creators are now helping Mari linguists with the local version. What has happened to the idea of a column recognising the Tatar language under the name “Aliya”, which was invented by the students of the Kazan Federal University, having developed an entire website and launched the pre-order function, which is not working now?

“The guys want to create projects related to national identity”

Information about the development of the Tatar smart speaker “Aliya” spread already last year. But it turned out that it was premature. There is a business plan, but there is no implementation.

The idea was born within the walls of Kazan Federal University. Rustem Vyaselev, senior lecturer at the Department of Public Relations and Applied Political Science at the Higher School of Journalism and Media Communications of the Institute of Social and Philosophical Sciences and Mass Communications, has practiced his course for 9 years, where students create their projects, make business plans and think about ways to promote them on the Internet.

“Within the framework of these courses, the young people develop ideas for startups and during the semester, using various tasks, they consistently fill them with various tools from the field of online marketing. This is how the idea of Aliya was born. We are not talking about technological implementation here," said the KFU lecturer.

Students can submit their projects to various competitions, like a startup studio, but the fact is that technological projects are more encouraged than humanitarian ones, Vyaselev complained. During the 9 years of the course, only one project reached practical implementation: a student began to produce and sell her accessories.

The employee of the university noticed that in recent years such a trend has been noticeable — children have a desire to create projects related to national identity, and it is growing.

“Board games about Kazan, goods, products with a Tatar flavour, all this is very relevant, and the guys notice it. I am very impressed that students are very good at tracking trends. In terms of generating ideas, they feel very good and are able to put them into practice. However, there are many buts. This whole concept with projects was launched with the aim that the guys would have some kind of real startup. But many are afraid to take the decisive step," stated Vyaselev.

“We put this idea on pause”

The Aliya smart speaker project was created as part of the educational process at the Institute. This was told by Artem Aksinin, a third-year student at the KFU, who, together with several classmates, came up with the smart column itself, its design and functionality.

“We came up with the idea, it was necessary to develop it to a certain level. From this point of view, we have achieved our goal. But then, by chance, the information got online and spread very quickly. That's when we thought it might be a chance for development. But, unfortunately, the miracle did not happen. We contacted the Institute of Applied Semiotics of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan, which has a very strong digital database of the Tatar language. Here they were able to systematise the Tatar language into a specific database. But this is not enough. We need the “brains” of the device itself in terms of programming and someone who would assemble the hardware itself. We tried to contact a large Russian IT company, but after reviewing the details, a refusal followed here," Artyom said.

The students also tried to reach out to large companies where similar technologies now exist.

“Yes, this idea is cool, it has many advantages both for the preservation of the Tatar language and for the republic as a whole. But just idea is not enough. I am sure that many people have suggested adding a national language to a smart column, maybe companies think it would be incorrect to include one language and not include another," the author of the project suggested.

Now young people are hoping for new ways to implement the project and for public interest. In the meantime, the project has been put on pause.

The hope of making a smart column that recognises the Tatar language is not lost at the Institute of Applied Semiotics of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tatarstan. Rinat Gilmullin, the director of the Institute, told Realnoe Vremya about this.

“The column itself is ineffective without linking to services. Currently, negotiations are underway with Yandex on cooperation, including on this task," he noted.

“If you say 'Һомай', it answers you in Bashkir, if you say 'iВика', it answers in Mari”

Bashkirs are ahead of the whole planet in the race of smart speakers in national languages. In December, the head of the region, Radiy Khabirov, announced in his Telegram channel that Bashkiria programmers had created the smart column hомай, speaking the Bashkir language.

“It understands Bashkir and Russian, can translate from one language to another, answer questions, turn on music and fairy tales, find recipes for Bashkir cuisine. It is also very easy for adults and children to learn the Bashkir language with its help," Khabirov wrote.

However, the column will be improved, there is a lot of work ahead, the head noted. The first five samples of Һомай were transferred to kindergartens with study of the native Bashkir language. The next 200 smart speakers will be made for schools. And after that, they plan to start production and sales. Һомай is one of the winners of the annual grant competition, which are allocated for the preservation and development of the languages of the peoples of Bashkortostan.

Now another option is being developed, a multilingual smart speaker: along with Bashkir, she will speak Mari: if you start a question with “iВика”, it will answer in Mari. The project is being implemented at the Mari Institute of Language, Literature, and History.

Milyausha Kashafutdinova
Tatarstan
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