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IBM offers AI-powered Q&A computer system to assist in COVID-19 queries

In an announcement, global technology company IBM said it is making IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens available to government agencies, healthcare organizations and academic institutions for free for at least 90 days in order for them to put critical data and information into the hands of their citizens.

IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens on the IBM public cloud brings together Watson Assistant, Natural Language Processing capabilities from IBM Research, and state-of-art enterprise AI search capabilities with Watson Discovery, to understand and respond to common questions about COVID-19.

Watson is a question-answering computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language, developed in IBM’s DeepQA project by a research team led by principal investigator David Ferrucci. Watson was named after IBM’s founder and first CEO, industrialist Thomas J. Watson.

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IBM Watson Assistant for Citizens leverages currently available data from external sources, including guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local sources such as links to school closings, news, and documents on a state website.

IBM already is delivering this service across the United States, as well as engaging with organizations globally in the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain, the United Kingdom and more.

Artificial intelligence

“While helping government agencies and healthcare institutions use AI to get critical information out to their citizens remains a high priority right now, the current environment has made it clear that every business in every industry should find ways to digitally engage with their clients and employees,” said Rob Thomas, general manager, IBM Data & AI. “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.”

Using information provided by clients, Watson Assistant for Citizens automates responses to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 that come in via phone call or text, such as “What are symptoms?,” “How do I clean my home properly?” and “How do I protect myself?”

State and local government agencies, hospitals or other healthcare organizations can choose to customize the solution to address questions specific to their area or region including “What are cases in my neighborhood?,” “How long are schools shut down?,” and “Where can I get tested?”

Pre-trained COVID-19

IBM will assist with the initial set up of Watson Assistant for Citizens, which can typically be done in a few days. The initial solution is available in English and Spanish and can be tailored to 13 languages.

The offer includes access to 15 pre-trained COVID-19 “intents” or queries. “Intents” are purposes or goals that are expressed in a customer’s input, such as answering a question. By recognizing the intent expressed in a customer’s input, the Watson Assistant service can choose the correct dialog flow for responding to it.

Clients can also work with IBM to customize the offering on top of the base model and intents to include information related specifically to a city or region for specific information that is pertinent to those citizens or constituents, as well as integrate with client’s back-end ERP systems.

IBM is also working with global businesses in other industries to apply AI to help them respond to COVID-19 and reimagine the way work will get done in this new operating environment.

For more information about Watson Assistant for Citizens, visit

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