The city will be one of 10 organizations using the company's new Watson Assistant for Citizens, to help communicate information about the virus. The service is now live and available for use through the city's website.
(TNS) — The city of Austin is joining a handful of organizations that will begin using IBM's artificial intelligence-enabled virtual assistant service to provide information on the coronavirus pandemic.
IBM says Austin will be one of 10 organizations using the company's new service, Watson Assistant for Citizens, to help communicate information about COVID-19. The service is now live and available for use through the city of Austin's website.
The company said it is offering the service for free for 90 days to help combat the spread of the virus. IBM said the Polish Ministry of Health, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Otsego County in New York are among the list of organizations that are using IBM's virtual assistant service.
Tauseef Khan, the city of Austin's chief technology officer, said he plans on rolling out the new service in phases. The first phase, which Khan expects to last about a week, will be in the form of a virtual chat bot on the city's website.
Residents can ask medical questions, as well as those regarding local school closings, or unemployment, through the chat bot, he said.
Khan said the city has plans to make the service more robust in future phases, such as the ability to use a microphone function to be able to speak to the virtual assistant.
Khan said the virtual assistant's natural language processing technology, a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with teaching machines to better understand human linguistics, will allow the quality of service to improve over time.
"I'm very hopeful because our test results were very positive," Khan said. "Our residents are counting on us to provide very timely updates on COVID-19 and the evolving situation."
IBM, which is headquartered in New York, has a significant presence in Austin, including a research campus and a client experience center near the Domain area.
Jason Kelley, general manager of the company's global blockchain services, is IBM's state executive for its operations in Texas. He said the virtual assistant is just one way that IBM is harnessing data and technology during the pandemic.
IBM announced last month that Watson technology is enabling a new COVID-19 global map that the company launched through the Weather Company, a subsidiary of IBM that operates the Weather Channel.
The free tool, which can be accessed on the Weather Channel mobile app or through the company's website, provides information on COVID-19 -- such as the number of confirmed cases and deaths by state and county as well as public health information, the company said.
The tool collects data from local and state agencies every 15 minutes to provide up-to-date information.
Kelley said the company is also in the middle of a collaborative effort with Oracle and San Francisco-based data security company Hacera to develop a safe information-sharing platform for COVID-19-related data.
"This is when we are at our best. As the 109-year-old startup that we are, we have been standing up to challenges for a while, whether it's the market crashing, or getting people to the moon and back safely," Kelley said. "This is when we say, all right coach, put me in."
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