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FCW : August 15, 2016
tending to it can take significant resources. “The IT challenges are less insurmountable than the main- tenance challenges: maintaining contacts with customers, enter- ing new data into the system,” he said. “Database structure gives us a great deal of flexibility.” To aid in that effort, Smail’s staff focuses on maintaining continuity in the data even when variables, such as well owners, often change. Database limitations in Washington state Washington state is wrestling with a database structure that was cre- ated to store water measurement information. “Over time, the needs have changed, and we’re limited by the existing database structure,” said Kristin Johnson-Waggoner, communications manager for the Water Resources Program at the Washington Department of Ecology. The department wants to increase its access to automated reporting to improve the accuracy of its data. However, Johnson-Wag- goner cited “political, social and economic challenges.” “In the work plan, we identified both IT needs as well as proce- dural and policy changes that we would need to implement to have a more robust water measurement program,” she said. “Obtaining the grant allowed us to spend dedicat- ed staff resources to evaluate our needs.” A vision of the future At USGS, Dalton can imagine a future when the federal govern- ment has a clearer picture of water use. The goal is getting “an HOW IT WORKS Bringing AI to citizen service BY BIANCA SPINOSA In the next five years, messaging is poised to become Americans’ preferred way to get information about products and ser- vices. Businesses are already turning to bots and automated messaging, and now the government is seeking to harness the technology for customer service. Chatbots use artificial intelligence to have conversations with users through voice or text input. Pizza Hut’s bot, for example, allows hungry customers to order pizza via Facebook Messenger. A Whole Foods chatbot responds to food emojis with recipe ideas. Government examples are still rare, but efforts are underway to change that. The General Services Administration recently hosted a crash course on chatbots that showcased the benefits of automated messaging for agencies. Justin Herman, SocialGov lead at GSA’s Technology Transformation Service, said chatbots can help agencies efficiently answer thousands of questions a day. Chatbots can get people the informa- tion they need, when and how they need it, “without it necessarily being limited to the [knowledge of the] human being who’s sitting behind the keyboard” pro- viding answers for an agency, he added. Multilingual support can also be provided with relative ease. A well-designed chatbot can do the work of five to 10 apps combined, said Bill Brantley, training administrator at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intel- lectual Property Academy. He wrote in a DigitalGov blog post that people would be able to interact with bots via web pages, instant messaging, texting, email and even virtual/augmented reality apps. Behind the user interface, a machine learning engine relies on APIs, databases, apps and the Internet of Things to gener- ate responses. Booz Allen Hamilton announced in July that it had teamed up with Conversable to focus on how to advance, test and deliver automated messaging, tools and services for commercial and public-sector clients. Rob Ruyak, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, said nearly half the questions people ask are simple and straightfor- ward, so automating the responses would save the more complex questions for humans to address. But there are security concerns about chatbots creating a real-time profile of the questioner. “We have to always be very vigilant about understanding all the different types of scenarios where the vulnerabilities could exist,” Ruyak said. “In effect with a chatbot, you’re making artificial intelli- gence available upfront to an individual, whether it’s through a messaging platform or a website. So I think the one thing we’ll have to really understand and focus on is if these things are learning about an individual.” n Chatbots can get people the information they need, when and how they need it, “without it necessarily being limited to the [knowledge of the] human being who’s sitting behind the keyboard.” — JUSTIN HERMAN 20 August 15, 2016 FCW.COM 0815fcw_014-024.indd 20 7/27/16 8:37 AM
July 30, 2016
August 30, 2016