IBM Offers States Free Watson Virtual Assistant to Answer Voter Election Questions
U.S. voters confused about the logistics for the November 3 election may get their answers from IBM’s Watson AI. IBM has created an election-focused version of its virtual assistant to handle questions of that nature using its natural language processing to understand and respond to voice and text queries about where and how to vote. IBM is offering a version of the virtual assistant to states for free until after the election.
Watson Voter Info
Watson integrates into existing chatbot and voice systems, with the basic version designed to answer 25 of the most common questions like how to get an absentee ballot or update voter registration. The number of calls and emails asking even basic questions has surged this year, in part due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis and the adjustments made to in-person voting systems as a result. States may work with IBM to design customized versions, able to answer questions more specific to that state or integrate into other state software. IBM is giving states the platform for free for at least 60 days, including providing engineers to help install it. Idaho was the first to use Watson to answer voter questions, although IBM expects more to sign up soon. IBM started working with Idaho back in March when Idaho had to cancel in-person voting during its primary in May. Nearly a million registered voters had their questions answered by Watson in those two months, and the partnership has continued into the general election.
“In short turn, our office needed to communicate the registration and absentee ballot procedures to Idaho voters, and we were bracing ourselves for a wave of calls,” said Idaho Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck. “In just two weeks, two of our people got started with Watson Assistant and trained it to provide important information about how and when to vote. We’re now exploring its capabilities throughout the remainder of this election season and beyond to help convey information about the other services and functions we provide for the people of Idaho.”
Government programs in 25 countries have been applying Watson’s AI to cope with the changes brought about by the spread of COVID-19, according to IBM. In Seoul, South Korea, IBM worked with the city government to create a virtual assistant that can survey and analyze the impact of the virus on people’s lives. The information Watson collects will then be used to inform policy decisions by city leaders. Meanwhile, the National Health Service of Wales launched its own Watson-powered virtual assistant named CERi to answer 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.
“Early in the pandemic, we mobilized Watson and its natural language processing technology to help organizations quickly deliver critical information and services to citizens, customers, and employees,” said IBM data and AI general manager Daniel Hernandez said in a statement. “With success there and the upcoming U.S. election, we are now mobilizing Watson to manage the flood of information requests and questions from citizens regarding voting logistics and resources.”