Rise of the Government Chatbot

A robot uprising has begun, except instead of overthrowing mankind so as to usher in a bleak yet efficient age of cold judgment and colder steel, this uprising is one of friendly robots (so far). Which is all an alarming way to say that many state, county and municipal governments across the country have begun to deploy relatively simple chatbots, aimed at helping users get more out of online public services such as a city’s website, pothole reporting and open data. These chatbots have been installed in recent months in a diverse range of places including Kansas City, Mo.; North Charleston, S.C.; and Los Angeles — and by many indications, there is an accompanying wave of civic tech companies that are offering this tech to the public sector. They range from simple to complex in scope, and most of the jurisdictions currently using them say they are doing so on somewhat of a trial or experimental basis. That’s certainly the case in Kansas City, where the city now has a Facebook chatbot to help users get more out of its open data portal. “The idea was never to create a final chatbot that was super intelligent and amazing,” said Eric…

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