California DMV Adds Virtual Assistant to Digital Services
The California Department of Motor Vehicles has a new virtual assistant to help visitors to its website complete their tasks and answer questions. The AI, named Miles, is part of the DMV’s new website, part of a larger overhaul and modernization plan for the DMV initiated last year.
Miles and Miles
Miles, whose avatar seen at the top somewhat resembles a character from Pixar’s Cars movie, interacts with people on the DMV website via a chatbot. Once the chat window opens, the AI can answer questions about topics like renewing a license or paying traffic tickets. If the AI is unable to answer a question, it can connect the user with a live employee during working hours. Miles is aimed at improving people’s experience at the DMV. As the DMV is the go-to cliche of bad experiences with the government, a virtual helper available at any time makes sense. The California DMV sees more than six million visits and handles almost 2.1 million transactions every month. Even a fraction of those visits no longer requiring a person at the DMV to answer standard questions; a lot of time and effort is saved on both ends. The variety of tasks that can be done online is also growing as the DMV expands its Virtual Field Office. Helping visitors figure out what they can do on the revamped website is another of Miles’ roles.
“Modernizing our website is one of many steps the DMV is taking to ensure our customers receive consistent, quality service wherever they conduct DMV business,” DMV director Steve Gordon said in a release. “We’ve redesigned our website with our customers in mind, and I’m excited to offer this new and enhanced virtual experience.”
The DMV undertook its digital renovation using recommendations that DMV Strike Team launched by California Governor Gavin Newsom last year. The team focused on ways to improve customer satisfaction by shortening how long tasks at the DMV take and making the process transparent. As an interactive guide to the department, Miles is right at the center of the project. But, California is far from alone in looking to apply AI to governmental services. Recently, Iowa created voice apps for both Alexa and Google Assistant to answer questions about government services and Mesa, Arizona’s Alexa skill not only answers questions but can be used to pay utility bills. The trend is international too. Estonia, for instance, is working on a voice and text-based AI to accommodate a whole host of governmental services.
The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has spurred other governmental groups to start or accelerate their own AI projects, often with a focus on the virus. Estonia again has been at the forefront, hosting a hackathon that led to a chatbot to answer questions about the coronavirus. India and the UK have each published a WhatsApp chatbot to answer questions and dispel myths about the virus. At the same time, France launched a voice assistant named AlloCovid, accessible through telephone, to perform a similar role. In the U.S., state governments have started asking voice app developers like Voicify to design ways to communicate with citizens about COVID-19 through Alexa and Google Assistant. Even as lockdown restrictions ease, the trend of governments adding AI-supported channels for communicating with and fulfilling citizen needs is likely to expand.