Artificial Intelligence

How AI is breathing new life into te reo Māori

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Author: Jason Lovell, Reobot creator

“Kia ora!” – Whether you’re Māori or not using this greeting says so much about New Zealand and how proud we are of our unique culture. Although, it hasn’t always been this way. It’s only in recent years that we’ve really started to take steps to make sure it remains a part of everyday life. And every September the whole of New Zealand celebrates Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week.

And it’s working. Hundreds of Māori words have made their way into the New Zealand vocabulary. But many of us for many different reasons want to know more. I believe te reo shouldn’t just be spoken at formal occasions or on a marae (Māori meeting place). I want to learn everyday Māori. Although I quickly realised, if I wanted to improve, I needed a convenient way to practice. How could I improve my conversational Māori when I had no one to talk with?

Enter Reobot – the free chatbot that helps users practice te reo Māori 24/7

Once I knew what was possible in the world of AI I had the idea for Reobot. It’s a Facebook Messenger chatbot you can text in te reo anytime, anywhere. Just like a real conversation, you simply start with kia ora (or hello) and go from there. Reobot responds in both Māori and English, so even if you don’t know much te reo the conversation keeps flowing. It allows me, and the 3,500+ people who use it, to practise anytime.

Using technology to make the complex simple

Before I started, I knew the success of Reobot would rely heavily on the user experience. It needed to feel like you’re talking to a real person, not a computer. The thing is, it’s not an easy task to make something, so complex seems simple. To add to that, I wouldn’t consider myself a tech-savvy person. Sure, I know some code, but AI is a whole new world.

IBM Watson Assistant was the perfect solution. Using the easy online app, I quickly and cost-effectively created a chatbot that could communicate with natural dialogue. Now I am under the hood of AI, I am hooked on scaling my solution and excited about the future of the industry.

What about the future of te reo Māori?

Kia Kaha te Reo Maori Kanohi ki te kanohi (face-to-face) classes are excellent for learning but what I’m seeing is how language learning can be supported beyond the classroom.

How fantastic would it be to immerse yourself in a virtual world where you could practice te reo Māori as often as you like. And with te reo Māori at the forefront of your mind, go and surprise your friends, family and the coffee shop owner with your reo.

Harnessing the power of new technologies like AI will change the game for te reo Māori.  Supporting and encouraging wider use and not just in New Zealand.

So this Māori Language Week, join me in celebrating te reo Māori and say kia ora to Reobot.

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