By Nikhila Natarajan
Built in a record time of five days, India’s official coronavirus chatbot MyGov Corona Helpdesk which has scored 21 million users and 25 million user engagements, is now bunging out responses to repeat users’ anxious queries circling around the country’s extended lockdown, after handling the initial flood of questions on COVID-19 symptoms and safety.
India’s lockdown has been extended from May 4 for a further two weeks, till May 17, as confirmed cases crossed 42,800 and the death toll rose to 1,389. A tentative return to normal life resumed in low-risk areas with few or no cases, while restrictions continued elsewhere in the country.
“Very quickly, we’ve moved from ‘how do I catch COVID’ and ‘how do I stay safe’ to the third category of questions. When are we going to open up? How do we open up? Can I go out? Where do I get groceries? How do I travel? When does travel open up?,” Aakrit Vaish, Founder and CEO of Haptik, the conversational AI firm which built the chatbot, told IANS in a video interview.
According to latest data from Haptik, 20 per cent of messages or more than four million messages are flowing from repeat users of the MyGov Corona Helpdesk, which has racked up 21 million unique users since launch. When the MyGov chatbot was launched, India had 258 COVID cases.
More than 40 per cent messages to the chatbot relate to latest COVID-19 updates, 14 per cent are drawn to the symptom checker, eight per cent continue to ask the 101 questions on coronavirus and its symptoms, seven per cent want to know about how the virus spreads and seven per cent ask about risk reduction. One in 10 messages are in Hindi, nine in 10 are in English. In the regional breakdown of chatbot use, Maharashtra leads, followed by Delhi.
In its current form, the MyGov coronavirus chatbot on WhatsApp number 9013151515 is text based and delivers answers based both on a numbered list and around the keywords and intents in user’s input queries.
Launched in the third week of March, the MyGov Coronavirus chatbot is part of a larger clutch of mobile technology-led interventions being developed and used at scale by the Indian government on incredibly short notice, in response to a real time health emergency.
Aarogya Setu, India’s mobile app for contact tracing, has logged 80 million downloads in less than a month since launch. The MyGov chatbot is one of the Indian government’s early moves to push factual information to the Indian public and quell fake news around the domestic coronavirus outbreak. All the information on the chatbot comes from the Indian government, on the WhatsApp platform which has 400m users in the country.
“We thought people would not trust it too much. We were surprised by the repeat users,” Vaish said. Delivering a civic use technology for India’s scale, Vaish said, is an “incredible experience”.
Of the 21 million who now use the chatbot, three million new users came online in the one hour during prime minister Narendra Modi’s address, when he pitched the app to the Indian public.
According to Vaish, real time insights from the way society is using the MyGov chatbot speak to the promise of domain specific chatbots as distinct from all purpose conversational platforms like Google and Alexa.
“Domain specific,” he says, is where chatbots are most effective. According to Vaish, India’s post COVID-19 life will see more bots and “domain specific” will be the winning keyword for the next wave of conversational tools as the call centre model gets disrupted by the public health imperative.
“For conversational platforms, we are on the right side of where the new normal is going to be.”
In April 2019, Reliance Jio bought a majority stake in Haptik in a Rs 700 crore deal. (IANS)