The Andhra Pradesh government, in collaboration with IBM, has created a virtual agent that provides COVID-19-related information to citizens on the response efforts and measures taken by the government.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police helplines and call centres of other relevant bodies have received a large number of calls from citizens asking to be informed on matters relating to COVID-19. In order to reach as many citizens as possible and meet their information needs, the National Health Mission, under the government of Andhra Pradesh, has collaborated with IBM to set up a Watson – based virtual agent that has been designed and trained to understand natural language and interact with users.

The Watson virtual agent (called Watson Assistant for Citizens) on the IBM public cloud brings together Watson assistant, natural language processing capabilities from IBM Research, and enterprise AI search capabilities with Watson discovery, to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19 in English, Telugu and Hindi.

Commenting on the development, Bhaskar Kattamneni, mission director, national health mission and commissioner of health, medical & family welfare department, Andhra Pradesh said, “IBM has been a trusted partner to the Government of Andhra Pradesh for a long period of time in enabling better delivery of citizen services. I appreciate the collaborative efforts of IBM in disseminating meaningful information to citizens of Andhra Pradesh in this pandemic situation. While the government is putting all resources available at its disposal to use, efforts like these go a long way in helping citizens meet their information needs. I also appreciate the quick turnaround time of the IBM team to include Telugu, the official language of state, into the Watson virtual agent.”

Meanwhile, Sandip Patel, general manager, IBM India/South Asia said, “In these unprecedented times, access to accurate information plays a critical role in allaying fears, dispelling myths and building trust among citizens. We are honoured to collaborate with the Government of Andhra Pradesh and to contribute to the prompt measures they have taken to provide their citizens with easy access to relevant information from reliable sources in local language. IBM is the innovation partner to businesses, governments and citizens across the world, and is committed to marshalling its resources, technology and expertise towards initiatives that help to manage COVID-19 outbreak.”

The virtual agent can answer citizens’ questions or redirect the user to specific information on the portal or to other websites of related ministries and official bodies. The virtual agent is deployed in a web browser and it is built in a way that it safeguards the privacy of the users.

The objective of this type of advanced technologies is to help reduce the waiting times for calls that users make to the telephone lines of state services relating to the novel coronavirus with an aim to best serve them.