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As Covid-19 continues to spread across the United States, authorities are still in need of large-scale ways to bring individualized information to a mass of people.One tool in that fight is chatbots, an approach that conversational artificial intelligence startup Amplify.ai has honed working with various parties throughout the course of the pandemic. Fresh off a partnership with Google and the Indian government to bring an informational bot to search results pages, the company has set its sights on working with U.S. municipalities in areas that continue to be hard hit by the virus.Like many other technologies that have proven useful in the fight against Covid-19, chatbots are seeing a surge in use amid the pandemic—not just in public health capacities, but also to supplement call centers shut down to comply with lockdown measures and other customer service applications.“A lot of [customer] contact, particularly support contact, happens via the phone. But increasingly, with Covid, it’s moving more to chat,” said Amplify.ai co-founder and CEO Mahi de Silva. “People around the world are experiencing this interactive digital age and experience because of Covid, and I think that’s going to create more familiarity that has pervasive applications in the commercial world.”The company recently contracted with the Indian government to create a bot hosted in Google results pages and Maps, which dispenses information about Covid-19 and points people to one of 16,000 food and shelter locations via conversational machine learning.The company is using the Indian chatbot as a best-case model as it expands to work with U.S. state and local governments, sometimes on a pro bono basis.De Silva said this kind of public health work can be more challenging than the company’s commercial work, because public agencies might not have the most up-to-date digital infrastructure to support it. Whereas India’s government has undergone efforts to digitally transform its services, capabilities vary widely among governing bodies at all levels.“When we work with commercial customers, we’re typically working with the marketing department. And they’re very well versed with how to do consumer engagement and how to incorporate this stuff into their typical advertising presence, and how to leverage social media,” de Silva said.“With governments, you typically don’t have that sort of wherewithal. So we had to take a much more rudimentary approach with explaining how these systems work and how we could integrate it with their digital infrastructure, which tends to be quite antiquated.”Amplify.ai isn’t the only company working with governments on coronavirus chatbots; the Centers for Disease Control recently tapped Microsoft to power its assessment bot, Clara. And Chinese ecommerce companies provided chatbot support to governments early in the pandemic.

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