Emerging Tech

Frank Konkel | Nextgov | August 31, 2016 | 0 Comments

Frequently Automated Questions: Is Artificial Intelligence the Future of FAQ?

Willyam Bradberry/Shutterstock.com

In the near future, artificially intelligent chatbots may digitally engage citizens on behalf of the federal government.

Drawing on alternative rock band REM’s album “Automatic for the People,” Justin Herman, digital communities and open government lead at the General Services Administration, recently explained an early business case for AI in customer service.

No, these AI-laced chatbots won’t destroy you at chess or own you at “Jeopardy!” Rather, fine-tuned through machine learning, chatbots could automate some aspects of customer service. The chatbots could respond in real time to millions of questions and comments citizens make through a growing number of third-party platforms and provide federal agencies more accurate data about what services and information people actually want. (ICF has a great visualization illustrating the extent to which federal agencies use verified third-party platforms, such as Facebook, Google, Socrata and Github, to engage citizens).

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

“If an agency gets 100,000 questions in a certain period, how many of those can be automated or responded to?” Herman said last week at a Digital Government Institute event.

Most of those questions distill to a few standard frequently asked questions, and even though most agencies have websites dedicated to FAQ, “that’s requiring citizens to go and search and find a website and go on a mission," he said.

“That’s one of the ways where AI for customer service comes in,” Herman added.

Chatbots equipped with sophisticated natural language processing could respond to citizens’ questions, generate reports on what citizens are asking about, and determine what results in a successful transaction or service performed.

A service like that could pay dividends for an agency like the Internal Revenue Service, which was able to answer only 37 percent of the calls citizens placed to it during the 2015 tax season. Calls answered still experienced wait times of 23 minutes, which is an eternity for customers used to banking, shopping and swiping right on their dating apps in a matter of seconds.

“What we have to do is move that transaction out from citizens having to hunt for it, and finding it naturally where it is and even automating it as much as possible,” Herman said.

In June, GSA hosted an AI-related event Herman called “frustrating,” in part because AI is a new technology and expectations for it vary across the board.

GSA’s exploration around early AI use cases mirrors a larger White House effort to better understand the intersection of AI and government. At a Nextgov event last week, Lynne Parker, the National Science Foundation’s director of Information and Intelligent Systems division, said the White House’s summer solicitation for feedback on AI resulted in some 400 pages of comments. Parker said they range from bleak (AI will eliminate jobs and pose a substantial risk to humanity) to optimistic (it'll deliver us a utopia to live in).

In any case, those comments will help shape an AI framework for government and direct federal research efforts. Similarly, early use cases of AI and machine learning—like the ongoing efforts at GSA—are likely to play a major role in how the federal government responds to this evolving technology, too.

“This is far from being a fad,” Herman said. “This is an inevitability.”

Comments
JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

    Download
  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

    Download
  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

    Download
  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

    Download
  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.