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BBC launches Corona Bot on Messenger to tackle COVID-19 questions

David Murphy

With the government announcing more changes to COVID-19 restrictions, and further updates on everything from shops opening to travel, the BBC has released a bot service on Messenger to help people find answers to many of their questions.

The aim is to trial new technology to help people get the most specific information, particularly relating to the economy, wellbeing and symptoms, as we enter the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

By typing questions relating to restrictions, lockdown and the latest advice and news into the new ‘Corona Bot’ tool, the experimental AI technology will draw on BBC News’ wide range of explanatory journalism to respond with an answer to the specific question where possible.

Where it judges it appropriate, the BBC is also pointing directly to relevant answers from the NHS website, which covers England, as well as devolved nations’ health authorities, to help all UK audiences find the best answer. It will also direct people to articles and broadcast material from BBC News.

The tool is also accessible via BBC News’ Facebook page, and the BBC said it plans to roll-out the tool on other BBC digital platforms as the situation develops. It will also be offered to technology partners such as Voice Assistants.

“People really want their specific questions about Coronavirus answered, from ‘when will shops open’ to ‘what is the R number’, but searching the internet often makes them more confused,” said Mukul Devichand, executive editor of BBC Voice and AI. “We often find ourselves overwhelmed with such questions, because people trust the BBC. With the situation becoming even more complicated as lockdown rules change, we have developed a Messenger tool to answer Covid-19 questions directly from trustworthy BBC reporting. We’re also including publicly-available material from the NHS where we think appropriate, so the UK public can turn to a single place for answers.”

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