London Council Deploys UK’s First Public Sector Artificial Intelligence Service

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Enfield Council plans to deal with online customers through ‘Amelia’ artificial intelligence platform

A council in London will be one of the first public sector organisations in Europe to deploy a customer-facing artificial intelligence service to deal with online residents.

Enfield London Borough Council, in North London, aims to improve its online service experience through the use of IPSoft’s Amelia AI program, with the service set to go live by the end of the year.

Enfield Council said that Amelia will be able to help residents locate information and complete application forms on the council’s website, in the first ever deployment of IPSoft’s technology in the public sector in Europe.

london streetsEnfield Council’s head of digital delivery, Tim Kidd, told TechWeekEurope that Amelia will “greatly assist” the council in the delivery of its digital services.

“We also, by putting in the technology, have a mechanism of delivery services not constrained to the traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday, but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year,” he said.

Frank Lansink, the European CEO for IPSoft, said that technology like Amelia comes in the wake of public organisations having to “deliver more with less”, but Kidd insisted that Amelia, for now, is not replacing any jobs.

“This is about making sure that we continue to provide and enhance the services that customers get by introducing technology, and really by having that technology in place means that we’re only then dealing with the more complex requirements that customers may have,” he told TechWeekEurope.

Enfield Council has suffered more than 300 redundancies over the last year. The council did not disclose how much it paid for Amelia, but the organisation is already under financial pressure after being hit with £118 million of government cuts since 2010. The council also has to save a further £56 million by 2019 as funding continues to shrink.

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How human?

One of the benchmarks for modern artificial intelligence platforms is that they can pass off as being human to the user. In the case of Amelia and Enfield Council, Kidd said that the program will act in a completely conversational style, and that Enfield residents shouldn’t be concerned about what they’re actually talking to.

“I don’t think that customers should necessarily we too worried about how that service is delivered, and by whom, but it will be in a way that is palatable to our customers,” he said.

But when it comes to particularly tricky or angry customers, Amelia will more than likely hand over control to a human operator. Kidd said that in some cases, when Amelia will not be able to immediately solve a problem, residents will be provided with a real member of staff.

“But the technology understands sentiment, and intent, and emotion, so we may put triggers in there that will pass it over to a member of staff if there’s a heightened sense of emotion,” he added.

In many cases, however, Enfield Council hopes that Amelia will deal with most queries itself, like issue self-certification for planning application. And when it can’t?

“We will prime it with a certain amount of information to begin with on the areas we have selected. Then, where it can’t answer the question, it will hand of a staff operator to answer. And it will learn as that answer is provided,” Kidd said.

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