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IBM in Talks with Govt Agencies for Free AI-Powered Virtual Agent to Handle COVID-19 Queries; ICMR First On Board

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the government machinery under tremendous pressure. As governments across states struggle to cope up with the growing infections, one area in particular that requires attention is disseminating the right information.

Considering numerous sources of information that people rely on, including fake WhatsApp forwards, it’s absolutely critical to cut through the clutter with right and trusted information. However, the biggest challenge is handling the flood of information requests with limited resources.

IBM is offering Watson Assistant, an AI and NLP powered virtual agent, free of cost to help government and healthcare agencies with the burgeoning queries load. Called, Watson Assistant for Citizens, the chatbot platform is trained to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19. For the Indian market, IBM Research has trained Watson Assistant to answer queries in both English and Hindi. In fact, Watson Assistant for Citizens can be availed free of cost by businesses as well.

By automating the responses to the queries coming in, the virtual agent can help government and healthcare agencies deliver accurate and updated information without overwhelming contact centers where human agents are needed. Thus, helping government agencies augment their response time as well as re-allocate human agents to other critical and high priority functions.

According to Prativa Mohapatra, Vice President – Sales, IBM India/South Asia, discussions are on with various government agencies and departments for rolling out IBM Assistant to help them automate their response to the growing queries load and quickly deliver accurate information related to COVID-19. Among those already on board is Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

ICMR is first of the Indian government agencies to deploy Watson Assistant on its portal to respond to specific queries of front-line staff and data entry operators from various testing and diagnostic facilities across the country on COVID-19. The queries could be related to nature and process of data to be captured by test labs, how to record inventory of test kits & reagents, process of reporting to various government agencies and references to the latest guidance, in addition to responding to queries on COVID-19 in general.

While in case of ICMR, the virtual agent has been deployed on protected pages of the ICMR website to be accessed only by authorized personnel who are involved with sample collection and testing in hospitals and diagnostic labs, it can be used by government and healthcare agencies for answering queries from citizens and public at large.

Watson Assistant for Citizens is fed with the standard and common queries related to COVID-19 and it applies AI to answer these at a very large scale. These can include queries related to testing, symptoms, preventive and precautionary measures, resources, guidelines, etc. It does so by leveraging data from various sources, including Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other government sources for prevention and treatment related guidance, citizen welfare schemes in India as well as global resources such as WHO and U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

IBM is already delivering Watson Assistant for Citizens across the United States and also engaging with various organizations globally.

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