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Opportunity

The COVID-19 crisis has created an unprecedented economic situation in our society. To support it financially, governments, both federal and provincial, offered quickly various assistance measures. These initiatives produced important but disparate information for businesses, workers and students. Despite the many existing sources to facilitate its access, finding the right information on a variety of government and media sites remained painstaking and time-consuming.

Willing to contribute in helping people and organizations affected by the COVID-19 crisis, Larochelle developed COVIDCHAT, a chatbot based on artificial intelligence.

Challenge

Time: quickly deliver a relevant solution in a crisis situation and ensure that it effectively exposed useful information at the right time: time was of the essence.

Skills: Aiming for a chatbot made sense right away but artificial intelligence, even when applied, was and still is not for everyone.

Information: given the wide media coverage of the crisis and the good reactivity of many government agencies, voluminous, sometimes contradictory and regularly updated information was easily accessible on the Web; however, extracting it effectively, conforming it for consistency and indexing it for performance was not trivial.

Accuracy: consolidating data into a knowledge base was one thing, but ensuring that correct answers were given to users’ questions was another; we had to train the bot so that it learned by itself and self-improved.

Solution

Using various cognitive, storage and compute resources available on Microsoft Azure, our Larochelle experts were able to develop and deploy COVIDCHAT, a QnA-based chatbot in a matter of few weeks; it stays freely available at the following link.

Throughout an interactive session with the chatbot, a user can ask a series of questions relating to the numerous assistance measures for workers in Québec affected by the COVID-19 crisis: the chatbot will interpret the questions, draw from the knowledge base the responses it deems appropriate and will refer the user to the correct government site to fill out the relevant form or to obtain additional information. If in doubt, the agent will ask the user for clarification and unanswered questions will be kept by the solution for future improvement.

Overall, COVIDCHAT is a virtual assistant that pretty much replaces an entire call center… for a few tens of dollars per month!

To learn more about COVIDCHAT, Microsoft technologies used and possibilities offered by chatbots, download the e-book available soon.

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