Smartbot to give multilingual coronavirus advice in Espoo

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2020-04-17 14:49

The City of Espoo is testing a smartbot, or a learning artificial intelligence application, that answers questions in more than a hundred languages on the Espoo.fi website. Questions to the smartbot do not need to be carefully formulated – if the smartbot cannot answer right away, it will soon learn.

The multilingual smartbot complements the City of Espoo communications and services in a situation where a client cannot use services in Finnish, Swedish or English. The smartbot is available around the clock and can serve more than 100,000 users at the same time.

The smartbot collects information from the websites of the City of Espoo and various authorities to answer questions reliably and competently. The smartbot is able to learn. If the information on the websites changes, the bot will notice it with a short delay and change its answers accordingly.

The smartbot is able to answer questions in more than a hundred languages. Its language skills are based on machine translation from English. While it will undoubtedly make some grammatical errors, the goal is to ensure that the key content of its messages is still understandable.

The smartbot will also respect privacy: it always chats with the users anonymously.

“A smartbot based on artificial intelligence and machine translation enables us to communicate instructions and latest updates on our services to Espoo residents who speak many different languages. Such rapid multilingual communications would not be possible without artificial intelligence. Although the grammar may still have room for improvement, the solution complements the City of Espoo’s communications in Finnish, Swedish and English,” says Juha Metso, Director of Social and Health Services.

Smartbot also gives Espoo-specific advice

The smartbot will keep track of the most frequently asked questions and questions it is unable to answer. This way, problems that need special attention and needs for further training of the smartbot can be immediately identified.

The smartbot can immediately answer for example the following questions:

  • What should I do if I suspect I have contracted the coronavirus?
  • How are travel and meetings with people restricted at the moment?
  • Where can senior citizens and families with children get help in their daily lives under these exceptional circumstances?
  • Where can employees who have been laid off or dismissed and businesses in financial difficulties get help?
  • What are the different ways to use City of Espoo services during the exceptional circumstances?

Smartbot is smarter than a chatbot

The difference between a smartbot and a traditional chatbot is that the smartbot also understands written language that is formulated freely. This makes it a more interesting bot to talk with. When you talk with a smartbot, you do not need to formulate your questions in the right way – if the smartbot cannot answer right away, it will quickly learn.

The smartbot began its work on the Finnish and English Espoo.fi website on 17 April 2020. It will be added to the Swedish website a bit later, too. It is available on the page www.espoo.fi/coronavirus and the page that contains coronavirus instructions in different languages. Later, it will also be added to www.helloespoo.fi. The City of Espoo has acquired the bot for a trial period of two months.

The smartbot has been developed in cooperation with the artificial intelligence and technology company IBM  and the Finnish eHealth startup Neuvo Inc. Global using IBM Watson Assistant technology. The smartbot has been trained based on communication materials from several health care and Finnish public administration experts (e.g. City of Espoo, Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare).

Further information