Four ways governments can use bots

By Charlene Chin

No complaints: they’ll work tirelessly.

Theodore Twombly is lonely. He lives a recluse until one day he purchases Samantha, an operating system, and falls in love with her.

The movie Her struck a chord with movie audiences when it was released, and it isn’t surprising to see why. Bots play a rising role in automating tasks for us. They’re programmed to learn and simulate conversations. Already, some governments have started using them in the workforce.

GovInsider has pulled together four ways the public sector can deploy bots to simplify tasks.

1) Managing customer service

robot amelia 3

More people are using digital government services and they have more complaints and questions. But “what happens when it becomes thousands of questions a day?”, asks Justin Herman from United States’ Technology Transformation Service, the FCW writes.

A local council in London has hired Amelia - an intelligent chatbot that helps citizens navigate its website online.

She - or it - will be able to converse with citizens through a chat feature on the site, guide them to the information needed, sense their emotions and respond accordingly.

Enfield Council is also hoping that she can fill in other roles - authenticating permits and certifying planning processes.

Set to launch this September and onwards, Amelia will beat human staff by working around the clock, every day.

The council has let go of 350 staff last year, and will face budget cuts of £56 million (US$72 million) over the next four years, according to the Telegraph. With strained resources, it hopes that the new software will help streamline services and free their staff “to do more value-added things”, James Rolfe - the council’s Director of Finance, Resources & Customer Services - told CNBC.

2) Healthcare

The UK’s National Health Service has deployed Molly – a virtual nurse – in their caregiving services. She helps patients monitor long-term diseases like diabetes and heart failures, and flags caregivers if their sickness escalates.

To start off, patients need to sign up to the platform, after which a personalised care plan is drafted according to their medical needs. They can check in with Molly on their phones or computers to follow the prescribed regimen; clinicians can also monitor their patients’ with the data collected.

“She follows up to see how they are, access them for risk, offer them education and insights and can tell them if they need to see somebody, or go to the hospital”, Adam Odessky, CEO of – the company that built the software – told Vator.

With early intervention, this can save healthcare costs as it prevent patients from being admitted to emergency rooms, he added.

To top it off, the artificially intelligent nurse has pleasant bedside manners: she responds with a soft-spoken voice to patients’ queries.

3) Virtual assistants

Amy Ingram aims to be your efficient personal assistant, responding to emails in a flurry and slotting in meeting plans with a hint of personal touch.
From her email responses, you wouldn’t have guessed she was a bot.

For Ms Ingram to work, she first needs to be copied in emails, and have access to your calendar. She then works with parties to set the “best time and location, knowing your schedule and preferences”, writes, the company that created Amy.

There is a catch however: Bloomberg revealed that the reason why Amy never made any mistakes was because human AI trainers lurked behind the scenes, overlooking incoming emails to evaluate whether Amy interpreted the user right, before she drafted a response.

But that isn’t to say she isn’t good at her job. “She’s now organized 55 meetings for me, seamlessly,”, David Jones - founder of You & Mr Jones - told Business Insider.

Jones points out that Amy can be useful in instances where 500 people need to convene for a global meeting, reducing the work of sending back and forth emails.

4) Building websites

Developing websites for the public sector doesn’t always have to be a costly process.

A startup called Wix has taken a creative turn to design. Instead of building bots from scratch, it is using data from 85 million users to train the artificial intelligence algorithm, Quartz writes; as a result, it can provide sound web design service in seconds.

The platform tailors web layouts to users’ needs, with choices catering to businesses, blogs, music, and events, among others. Once a website is complete, users can tweak the layout further according to their preferences.

The platform builds responsive sites for free, charges for its premium accounts, and was launched in 2006.

Bots are now taking up more mundane chores that the skilled generation wants to give up, but don’t give free reign to them yet. As Microsoft’s Tay parroted racist comments from online users, it goes to show that bots come with flaws. The day you enter a whirlwind romance with your chatbot remains far away, thankfully.