Adult avatars and chatbots

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There are high-volume, low-complexity transactions, such as paying council tax or reporting a pothole.For these, Labellarte says, AI adds a layer of complexity and electronic forms are a better way forward.A number of suppliers had approached the north London borough of Enfield to promote AI as part of its digital transformation programme.When the council looked into the AI market, however, it became clear this was an immature technology.It’s interesting how perceptions and reality start to blur.” While the first avatars, which can converse in multiple languages and respond to a wide range of queries are just starting to be produced, Enfield has been working on a text-based chatbot for planning services.“It has the potential for spoken commands, so you can speak into it as well, but it is quite a long way from having an avatar or virtual assistant that walks and talks,” says Labellarte.Enfield has been spreading the message too and, over the past year, has been talking about the project to about 30 other councils.“We have been approached not just by councils here, but by the City of Hamburg, and a major international bank who have come and seen what we are doing,” he adds.

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After four years heading up IT at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, Labellarte joined Enfield in 2016 – just one week it had agreed a research and development partnership with US AI company, IPsoft, to build this new cognitive agent.“Fast forward a year, and we have been working very, very closely with IPSoft, but also with Microsoft, as the technologies mature.“Now we are at a point where we are probably weeks away from deploying the first real, effective cognitive agent – certainly into beta testing with a wider audience, but potentially into the public domain as well.” Extensive press coverage at the time the IPsoft contract was announced jumped the gun by reporting that Enfield was launching a robot, or avatar. “I am going to tell you a little anecdote,” says Labellarte.Enfield Council’s lead technology adviser Rocco Labellarte says the authority’s chatbot is attracting international attention and is about to transform services and release resources.Gill Hitchcock reports Rocco Labellarte has been on a journey of discovery.

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