The General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. Source: Shutterstock

UN in Philippines uses IBM AI to power pandemic info platform

  • IBM AI is helping to boost pandemic-related responses on an UN-endorsed information platform in the Philippines

The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) Youth Philippines is collaborating with tech heavyweight IBM to reinforce its COVID-19 information platform, to cope with rising traffic demands.

IBM announced the partnership, which sees the Filipino pandemic site using IBM Watson Assistant, a conversational artificial intelligence (AI) solution trained with natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to interact with end-users on a range of coronavirus-related queries – providing relevant, reliable information quicker to concerned communities in the Philippines.

SDSN Youth is a global non-governmental movement organized by the UN to educate young people on the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, which in the Philippines includes education on sanitation and clean water, fostered through the use of integrated platforms where youth can connect and exchange ideas on collaboration projects.

As a part of the official UN Taskforce on COVID-19 response, SDSN Youth Philippines created the Interactive Philippine Dashboard to provide accurate, up-to-date data from reliable sources on the development of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, where there is still over 38,000 active cases. The dashboard displays necessary data on the status of active cases, recoveries, fatalities, and more in easily digestible format, and has been averaging around 200,000 site visits a month as of June.

Since being deployed, the average daily conversations being handled by the IBM Watson-powered virtual assistant have increased by 1050% as compared to the previous Q&A platform the site was using. The chatbot is hosted on IBM’s public cloud, and makes use of state-of-art enterprise AI search capabilities via Watson Discovery, to understand and respond to common questions surrounding the outbreak.

“Having the Watson Discovery to search through other reputable sources has also further increased the wealth of information we can share with our users,” said Julio Macrohon, overall project lead, UN SDSN Youth Philippines’ Leadership Council. “All in all, this partnership has allowed SDSN Youth to streamline its operations and maximize the time and effort of our volunteers, thus enabling us to better achieve our mission of fighting against both the pandemic and infodemic.”

The IBM AI powered virtual assistant, SAM, on the SDSN Youth Philippines portal

The IBM AI powered virtual assistant, SAM, on the SDSN Youth Philippines portal

IBM Watson Assistant is equipped to answer a wide range of pre-trained information, and continuously learns the more it is utilized. The virtual agent leverages trusted information sources including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to learn information and to develop its responses, ranging from COVID-19 symptoms, testing information, and public service information. Organizations that use IBM Watson Assistant can also train to recognize other intents, by selecting from IBM’s content catalogue.

“In these unprecedented times, access to accurate information plays a critical role in allaying fears, dispelling myths, and building trust among citizens. I am excited to see today’s Filipino youth proactively playing a part in making a difference in today’s different normal brought about by this pandemic,” commented Aileen Judan-Jiao, IBM Philippines President and Country General Manager, in a statement. 

“This bears testimony to our commitment to lend IBM’s technology, resources, and people, to support Filipinos with easy access to trusted, relevant information from reliable sources. IBM is the innovation partner to businesses, governments, and citizens across the world, and is committed to marshaling its resources, technology, and expertise towards initiatives that help to manage COVID-19 outbreak.”

IBM has been supporting a variety of government agencies, healthcare organizations, academic institutions, businesses and NGOs throughout this health crisis, leveraging its AI-driven data gathering and analysis capacities to provide useful pandemic-related insights in over 25 other countries, including Thailand, the Czech Republic, and the U.S.

“We are currently offering Watson Assistant to local government agencies, businesses, hospitals or other healthcare organizations while assisting with the initial set up, which can typically be done in just a few days,” added IBM Philippines’ Judan-Jiao. “Organizations can customize the solution to address questions specific to their city or region or integrate IBM Watson Assistant to its existing back-end ERP systems.”