IBM today announced the launch of Watson Assistant for Citizens, a new chatbot solution available to government agencies, health care institutions, and academic organizations free of charge for 90 days. The hope is that by tapping AI technologies like natural language processing, it’ll triage residents looking for guidance on COVID-19, which has affected 204 countries to date.

Online, by text, or by phone, the Watson Assistant for Citizens virtual agent — which brings together IBM’s Watson Assistant and Watson Discovery services and AI capabilities from IBM Research — draws on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local sources like links to school closings, news and documents on state websites, and more to answer natural language questions about the novel coronavirus. For instance, Watson Assistant for Citizens automates responses to commonly posed queries like “What are symptoms?,” “How do I clean my home properly?,” and “How do I protect myself?”

Watson Assistant for Citizens includes 15 pretrained intents (i.e., queries) and dialog flows out of the box, and it can integrate with backend enterprise resource planning systems to incorporate information related to specific cities or regions. For instance, state government agencies can choose to have the virtual agent address questions like “What are cases in my neighborhood?,” “How long are schools shut down?,” and “Where can I get tested?”

IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens

Above: A screenshot of IBM’s Watson Assistant for Citizens.

Image Credit: IBM

Watson Assistant for Citizens is available in English and Spanish, but it can be tailored to up to 13 different languages. IBM says it’s already being used by government and health care agencies across the U.S., as well as by organizations in the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, U.K., and more.

Watson Assistant for Citizens’ debut comes after IBM made available a map on The Weather Channel to track the spread of COVID-19, mainly using data from governments as well as the World Health Organization. The company also built a dashboard on top of its Cognos Analytics suite that’s designed to help researchers, data scientists, and media analyze and filter coronavirus information down to the county level.

IBM last week announced it would coordinate an effort to make supercomputing capacity available to researchers in order to help identify treatments, viable mitigation strategies, and vaccines for COVID-19. It also launched a new Call for Code Global Challenge that will encourage developers to build open source technologies that address several areas, including crisis communication during an emergency, ways to improve remote learning, and how to inspire cooperative local communities.

IBM isn’t the only organization deploying chatbots to keep folks informed of COVID-19 developments, of course.

Building atop Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a COVID-19 assessment bot that can assess symptoms, provide information, and suggest next courses of action. Elsewhere, startup Quiq collaborated with the city of Knoxville, Tennessee to deploy a chatbot via its website and a mobile app, and Jefferson City, Missouri announced that it’s working on a bot that can answer questions online.

Overseas, the Indian government teamed up with Facebook’s WhatsApp to launch a COVID-19 informational chatbot called MyGov Corona Helpdesk. The U.K.’s National Health Service is also in talks with WhatsApp to set up a dedicated chatbot. And Pakistan collaborated with startup Botsify to create a bot that connects users with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations & Coordination in Islamabad.


How startups are scaling communication: The pandemic is making startups take a close look at ramping up their communication solutions. Learn how