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IBM and City of Markham launch virtual agent for COVID-19 related questions

The new service uses AI and machine learning to provide an enhanced user experience and keep residents safe during the pandemic

April 29, 2020  by CM Staff

IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens offers accurate, real-time COVID-19 information using AI and machine learning. PHOTO: IBM Canada Ltd.

MARKHAM, Ont. — IBM and the City of Markham are using the artificial intelligence-driven virtual agent “IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens” to offer 24-hour customer service for residents looking for COVID-19 information.

The solution will use AI and machine learning to enable the City of Markham to deliver reliable, consistent and accurate information conveniently to residents via online text chat and voice calls, according to IBM.

“Serving our community has always been a priority for the City of Markham, and providing up to date information is even more critical during this public health emergency,” said Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti in a prepared statement. “We need to ensure that people can access information quickly and that it is accurate.”

IBM announced they will be offering Watson Assistant for Citizens to governments, healthcare and academic institutions via the IBM public cloud, free of charge for at least 90 days, along with access to IBM experts who will help organizations set up the virtual agent.

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“With information changing almost hourly, it’s essential that people have the right tools available to keep themselves safe and healthy,” said Frank Attaie, vice-president cloud at IBM Canada, in a prepared statement. “With years of experience using powerful technologies like AI, data analytics and cloud – our goal is to put the right knowledge at the fingertips of people to make more informed decisions as we navigate this crisis.”

According to a company statement, the AI components can be adapted and expanded to specific customer needs and context. The pre-build content has been adapted to the City of Markham with information collected from the City of Markham website and Public Health authorities including the Public Health Agency of Canada, Ontario Ministry of Health and York Region Public Health. No personal user information is collected.

Some examples of questions that can be answered by Watson Assistant for Citizens include: “What are the symptoms of COVID-19?”, “How do I protect myself from COVID-19?”, “Where can I get tested for COVID-19 in Markham?”, “Are parks and trails closed?”, “What City services are available?”, “Will my garbage be picked up as usual?” and more.