City of Markham adopts Watson Assistant for Citizens to keep people safe during COVID-19

By , Frank Scarpitti, and Frank Attaie | 2 minute read | May 1, 2020

Mobile phone with Watson AI app opened

Although the coronavirus pandemic is a global emergency, its impacts often feel very immediate and personal.

Families are staying at home; we can see but not have physical contact with our friends and loved ones, and our healthcare facilities are working non-stop to save lives. Governments are also working hard to provide daily updates on the pandemic, our economy, and on new health measures that we need to follow in order to do our part to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19. Increasingly, those of us who can are using digital technologies to work from home, connect with loved ones, order groceries and more.

We have faced so much uncertainty since COVID-19 first surfaced, and especially in recent months, people have been left feeling anxious and with questions of how their lives would need to change to help flatten the curve. Citizens want and need quick, accurate answers to their COVID-19 questions, including how it is affecting government and municipal services. In our digitally connected world, this often means that people are reaching for their laptops, tablets and phones to ask common and similar questions during this time of change: What are the COVID-19 symptoms? How do I protect myself? Where can my family get tested? How many cases are there in my community? What schools and other public facilities are closed? What municipal services are available?

Governments know it is vital that the public receive geographically-specific, accurate and timely information from trusted and credible sources, and they are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and digital technology as one way to inform and engage with citizens 24 hours a day and from any device.

That’s why the City of Markham has adopted a new automated system for online web chat and telephone chat to help answer frequently asked questions from citizens related to COVID-19. By providing up-to-date information about the pandemic and making it easily accessible for everyone, the City of Markham is helping to keep residents informed and safe, no matter where they are. The online and telephone virtual agent provides speedy, accurate answers from Canadian Public Health authorities such as York Region Public Health, and more.

Powered by IBM Watson, Watson Assistant for Citizens uses natural language processing (NLP) to understand questions a person has spoken or texted to the virtual agent, and provides relevant, accurate responses, or directs residents to a web page or phone number to reach a live person for more information.

This virtual agent allows the City of Markham to further reinforce its commitment to delivering exceptional services to the community, by providing a new and enhanced method of being able to interact with citizens during the global pandemic to keep them informed and safe.

Click here to watch the announcement by Mayor Frank Scarpitti

This announcement was authored in partnership with:

Portrait Mayor Frank Scarpitti

Mayor Frank Scarpitti
City of Markham

Portrait Frank Attaie

Frank Attaie
VP, Cloud & Software, IBM Canada