It’s time we have a chat about chatbots.
The automated and often artificial-intelligence-backed service has the power to deliver answers to commonly asked questions for an organization via any messaging service. And while industries like healthcare are seeing adoption of solutions like Microsoft’s Healthbot, local governments are now starting to get in on the buzz as well.
State governments were just dipping their toes into chatbot services late last year, with North Carolina jump-starting dialogues around the use of the conversational technology for both internal and external use cases — including assistance with the IT department’s help desk operations.
Now, however, it’s safe to say that local governments are at least knee-deep in chatbot projects across the country.
The Gov2Go app, a personal government assistant project in Arkansas, is looking to introduce chatbots to relieve phone line congestion and help streamline many of the questions the state’s government agencies get each month.
“With chatbots, we hope to enable citizens to get answers to many types of questions using machine learning, and with human assistants providing support as needed,” Arkansas CIO Yessica Jones told Government Technology.
She spotlights agencies such as the Game and Fish Commission, which receives hundreds of similar calls each month from citizens seeking info on hunting and fishing rules. Chatbots could help cut back on employee workload (eliminating many of the phone calls they receive) as well as bring that info to residents via messaging apps, which many prefer to phone calls.
“Facebook and Amazon Echo are just two channels that we can provide this kind of automated, intelligent interaction,” Jones said. The app is also available via Apple Watch and Apple TV, among other channels. “We can also use SMS and in-app notifications to reach citizens, and we are working on a pilot for this now.”
If you need help from the Los Angeles IT department, Chip the chatbot — whose name stands for City Hall Internet Personality — may just help talk you through it.
Unveiled at the Smart Cities NYC 2017 conference in early May, the chatbot was developed by Microsoft and city officials, and has been working behind the scenes since March 21, Government Technology reports.
The bot, still in beta mode, has thus far answered more than 1,400 queries to the IT department. It lives on the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual Network as a visitors’ personal digital assistant.
“Chip is an anytime, anywhere resource to understand how to do business with the city,” Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross told Government Technology. “When you have a city of over 4 million people it’s impossible to bring everyone into a football stadium all at once to talk to them. Technology is the platform in which we engage people.”
He also notes that with Chip onboard, emails to BAVN fell from 80 per week to 40 or less, something that will certainly help to augment the workload for the department’s diminishing IT staff.
Harbored in the Microsoft Azure cloud, the bot can connect via an extensible platform and Application Program Interface (API) to connect to any data or back-end system, Michael Donlan, Microsoft’s vice president of U.S. state and local government, told the source. While it currently frees up employees to deal with more complicated issues, Dolan and city officials are hoping in the future to tap into the AI aspect to build up a knowledge base for Chip. The goal here? Chip will tailor his responses to specific residents.
“To extend this kind of scenario to a chatbot, I might be able to say something like, ‘Hey, Alexa, ask the DMV when my license is expiring or how to renew my license,’” Ross Rubin, founder and principal analyst at New York-based Reticle Research told Government Technology. “If that bot had access to my calendar, it might see I was going to the auto show and see that the DMV was going to be set up there.”