Seoul Launches IBM Watson-Based Virtual Assistant to Survey COVID-19 Impact
Seoul, South Korea has debuted a virtual assistant built on IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s lives. The virtual assistant and survey are part of Seoul’s “I Care You” project to improve future policy decisions, one of many government initiatives around the world applying Watson’s AI in the wake of the coronavirus.
Seoul’s leaders want to hear from citizens about the changes in their lives since the pandemic began. Any Seoul citizen can take the survey on the city’s website or through its social media channels. Watson is powering the digital survey, which asks a range of questions on people’s physical and mental health, their social lives, and how they felt subsequent public health edicts affected them. The AI will then collate and analyze the information, presenting the results to city policymakers so they can have a better idea of the state of the city and what it needs. The whole project was put together in only three weeks, including designing and training the virtual assistant to interact with the people taking the survey.
“Through this survey using an AI-based virtual assistant, we have an opportunity to understand the situation and social problems of citizens due to COVID-19,” Director-General of Seoul Innovation Seon-Ae Jeong said in a statement. “This collaboration with IBM is a meaningful example of a public-private partnership. In the future, the results will be utilized to help develop various policies in Seoul City.”
Watson has seen a surge in use by governments globally during the COVID-19 health crisis, in several forms. The National Health Service of Wales recently released a virtual assistant named CERi using Watson as an aid in answering the public’s questions, in both English and Welsh, while the Royal Marsden in England set up a Watson-based virtual assistant for use by employees. In both cases, the point is relieving healthcare professionals to focus on tasks only they can perform. According to IBM, Watson is part of the COVID-19 response in 25 countries, but the pandemic has spurred plenty of other governmental AI projects, internally and with corporate partners. Estonia hosted a hackathon that led to a chatbot answering public questions about the coronavirus. India and the UK have also created chatbots for that purpose, although on WhatsApp, while France set up 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.