Governments both national and local are increasingly interested in using chatbots as a primary method of interaction, both to save on cost and improve efficiency. Get ready for bots to be the main way your authorities talk to you!
Many governments around the world have been tinkering with chatbots as part of efficiency or smart city initiatives. But the tide is about to get a lot stronger as budgets come under pressure and the move to digital or e-government takes over the world.
GovBots on the March
Recent news from Hong Kong sees the local government pushing strong for smart city status., In a sign of her determination to forge ahead with the smart-city blueprint unveiled last year, A recent China Daily piece reported that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor plans to spend HK$28 billion (£2.8 billion) on technology including eID for every Hong Kong citizen in mid-2019, plus a range of artificial intelligence and chatbot functions for the government website next year.
In America, bots are already helping citizens access services. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service uses Emma to provide services in English and Spanish for inquiries and advice. They can also help people who do business with local governments, such as San Francisco’s PAIGE who helps support the procurement of goods and services to provide citizens with essential governmental services.
Over in India, the National Rail service recently launched a new bot, Ask Disha, a first for India’s government. She works in English and Hindi, with local dialects to come. Offering rail information and advice with an instant response to speed up transactions and reduce friction among Indian commuters and tourists.
Around the world, bots will help simplify how people deal with official services from taxes, benefits and health services. Chatbots are a universal tool and individual politicians can seize the initiative to help make a difference. In the UK, a local councillor built a bot to help people access local services. Where he leads, many others will follow, and while America might wallow in a see of auto-vote-for-me chatbots, useful and practical access to services will help voters understand and have better access to their rights.
Providers Need to Clarify the Message
As with commercial and generic bots, there will be success stories and failures. Any government of any size needs to source the right type of bot from the job, from scripted products for customer service interactions, natural language processing (NLP) and AI services for more advanced chat, and ensure they can securely access government data where needed, and protect the user’s privacy.
Any government caught using a bot that is weak or insecure will soon be held up to public scrutiny. In these cases, that could damage trust and adoption of further bots, so caution and thorough testing is needed. They must also highlight the advantages to the people, not just focus on business/government benefits.
Bot provider SnatchBot sees government bots helping provide a voice for the people. Calling for“conversational government,” it highlights the notion of strengthening the interaction between a legislative body and its citizens using chatbots. Citing an example of a resident who wants to know how to report a pothole in a city street. Ordinarily, she would first have to navigate a website, then call an office and most likely leave a voicemail, and then wait for a return call.
With a bot, she could simply send a text message to the local government’s chatbot via her preferred channel. The chatbot would immediately and accurately reply, using context to recognize the request and pass the information on to the necessary resource.
Into the GovBot Future
As with ID cards, digital government benefits transactions and other modern efforts, chatbots will fast become a part of the furniture for dealing with local and national authorities. They could take over at immigration desks in airports, replace local council offices front desks and help with recruitment and deal with local emergencies and issues.
While it will be a while until everything is available under the guise of your overlord government chatbot, they will fill out into many roles and help all ages become used to dealing with bots, making them more widely accepted.
Chris Knight writes about where technology will take us next, from the power of neural networks, artificial intelligence and chatbots, to the endless worlds promised by augmented and virtual reality. From the latest in gadgets and hardware to how digital businesses can use technology to grow, Chris makes the future clear and understandable to all.