IBM releases free AI to support COVID-19 queries, Australia's La Trobe University signs up

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IBM releases free AI to support COVID-19 queries, Australia's La Trobe University signs up

IBM has offered to supply organisations around the world with a free AI assistant that answers questions about COVID-19, and one Australian university is giving it a go.

Big Blue last week said it would provide its Watson Assistant for Citizens, hosted on the IBM cloud, free to customers such as government agencies, healthcare organisations and academic institutions to help them manage an increasing number of queries related to the global coronavirus pandemic.

On Friday, the vendor revealed La Trobe University was collaborating with the IBM Cloud Garage team to create and deploy a COVID-19 chatbot to quickly and accurately answer frequently asked questions about the virus’ symptoms, information about state and federal restrictions and the status of the university as lockdowns continue across Australian.

La Trobe’s deployment of the chatbot will sit on the university’s website and be accessible to all staff, faculty and students. 

The service brings together Watson Assistant, natural language processing capabilities from IBM research and AI search capabilities to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19 either online or over the phone. 

The service will be free to La Trobe for at least 90 days, with IBM also assisting with initial setup. The core solution is available in English and Spanish, but can be tailored to 13 languages. IBM said the offer includes access to 15 pre-trained COVID-19 query areas, which are determined from user inputs and responses to follow-up questions. 

Customers can also work with IBM to customise the offering beyond its base range of queries. 

IBM general manager for data and AI Rob Thomas said it was clear that all businesses in every industry should find ways to digitally engage with their clients and employees. 

“With today’s news, IBM is taking years of experience in helping thousands of global businesses and institutions use Natural Language Processing and other advanced AI technologies to better meet the demands of their constituents, and now applying it to the COVID-19 crisis. AI has the power to be your assistant during this uncertain time.”

La Trobe University, the first Australian organisation to sign-on and deploy the solution, is expected to work closely with IBM’s COVID-19 response team to assist in updating the chatbot with relevant information as the situation continues to unfold.

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