AI Technology Mashup Gives Voice to Transgender Activist in Nepal


Project gives a whole new meaning to democratizing artificial intelligence

If you’re a transgender political activist located in the small mountainous kingdom of Nepal, how do you get your story out to the global community? Well if your name is Bhumika Shrestha, you use some of the most advanced information technologies from IBM, Google, Facebook, and Amazon to create a web platform for talking to the world.

Bhumika is a political activist who has been working to advance to cause of transgender rights and cultural acceptance in Nepal and worldwide. Last year, she became the first transgender woman to travel abroad using the designation of “other” as her gender. Nepal is one of the few countries to allow such a classification on its passports.

The idea to give her a more global platform came from Marc Lajoie, a reporter for China Daily Asia, who became interested in Bhumika’s story and wanted to engage his readers and people outside the reach of his publication in a more personal way. In a recent write-up, he describes how the project came about:

I wanted to make Bhumika, and her story, the heart of an experimental journalism project on the Web. The project would use state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to answer users’ questions with video answers, in order to simulate conversation. If all went as planned, Bhumika herself would appear onscreen to answer questions about her own experience, and about Nepal’s remarkable journey from conservative Hindu monarchy to a regional role model for gender and sexual minority rights.

Lajoie’s project involved filming an interview with Bhumika in which he asked her a series questions regarding her background, her work as an activist, and her experiences as a transgender woman.  The responses became the basis of the interactive web page that was built using IBM Watson (cognitive computing), Google deep learning (speech recognition), Facebook React (user interface creation), and AWS Lambda (serverless compute).

The resulting mashup is an interactive webpage hosted by China Daily Asia, which enables people to “talk” to Bhumika, either via audio input or by typing the questions. Check it out.

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