Home Affairs deploys [REDACTED], its first digital assistant

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Home Affairs deploys [REDACTED], its first digital assistant

Nuance-powered bot for immigration questions dares not speak its name.

Four years after the federal government’s first chatbots began arriving on the scene to help citizens navigate services, the Department of Home Affairs has finally launched its own.

The department recently began trialling a Nuance-powered digital assistant on its website to provide tailored responses to common questions using natural language and conversational dialogue.

Initially limited to answering visa and citizenship questions on the immi.homeaffairs sub-site, the assistant offers the same basic information available through the Home Affairs contact centre.

It is also capable of learning from its interactions in order to automatically improve its responses to questions over time.

A spokesperson told iTnews that the trial assistant “sits on the Nuance platform and was developed in collaboration with the department’s service centre provider, Datacom Connect”.

Other agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office – which launched the government’s first assistant, dubbed Alex, in August 2015 – and IP Australia also use Nuance software for their bots.

However, unlike these agencies, Home Affairs has decided against giving its assistant a name or persona, at least for now.

Services Australia, which has attempted to play down its extensive work around AI more recently, has given names to all six of its Microsoft-based bots: PIPA, Charles, Sam, Olive, Gus and Roxy.

Since going live in November, the Home Affairs assistant has had more than 100,000 conversations, answering more than 60 percent of questions correctly.

“Early indications are the resolution rate exceeds the industry benchmark of 60-65 percent,” the spokesperson said.

“This will be further reviewed at the completion of the trial in February 2020.”

The assistant, which currently works with all major internet browsers and on both iOS and Android devices, is part of the department’s plan to improve its digital service offerings for both citizens and visitors.

“The department is exploring opportunities to deliver enhanced digital services to clients, who increasingly want to interact with the Department at any time, from anywhere, on a device of their choosing,” the spokesperson said.

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