IBM’s Watson Assistant can now field election questions

Ahead of the U.S. elections on November 3, IBM today announced it’s working with states to put information about processes into the hands of potential voters. Using the AI and natural language processing capabilities of Watson Assistant, IBM says it’s helping field voter queries online and via phone by advising on polling place locations, voting hours, procedures for requesting mail-in ballots, and deadlines.

Research from the Pew Center indicates that nearly half of all American voters expect to have difficulties casting a ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. And in a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll, 41% of those surveyed said they believed the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all to keep November’s election safe and secure.

IBM’s election-focused Watson Assistant offering taps Watson Discovery to surface information about voting logistics from federal, state, and county websites; local news reports; and government documents. The offering includes access to 25 pre-trained queries specific to voting and election challenges, like “When is my absentee ballot due?”, “How do I request an absentee ballot?”, “How do I update my voter registration details?” and “When will my polling location be open?” After recognizing intent, Watson Assistant chooses the correct dialog flow corresponding to it.

States can work with IBM to customize Watson Assistant on top of the base model to incorporate tailored information, integration with backend systems, expanded use cases, and questions specific to states or counties. IBM says it plans to offer Watson Assistant to state governments at no charge for at least 60 days. And as a part of the offer, company engineers will assist with setup, which IBM claims can be done in as little as days.

IBM says that one of the first beneficiaries — the state of Idaho — used Watson Assistant ahead of the state’s primary in May to help answer questions from over 900,000 registered voters. In March, after Idaho determined that there would be no in-person voting for its primary election due to the pandemic, the secretary of state’s office collaborated with IBM to communicate to voters how to cast ballots by mail through the absentee voting system. It reportedly took a team of two people two weeks to train and deploy Watson Assistant for the state.

Heading into the U.S. presidential election in November, IBM says that Idaho will continue to use Watson Assistant to field voter queries. It expects additional states to follow suit in the weeks ahead.

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