Chatbots for Humanitarian Projects and Research Teams
What are Humanitarian Chatbots?
Chatbots are computer programs you can talk to. Like for-profit businesses, humanitarian organizations can use them to support their beneficiaries and citizens better.
Chances are great that you’ve used chatbots already—theycome in many flavors: some are text-based, others can literally talk. You might build a chat bot for messenger apps like WhatsApp, use SMS text messages, or even voice calls. For some use-cases a simple menu might be best, while others use large-language models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
All this variety means that this is an exciting time to explore chat bots for your organization.
How Could You Use a Chatbot?
Chatbots are amazing and you want to use them … but what could you use them for? Here are a few examples from the humanitarian field how your organization might employ chatbots:
Let an AI chatbot digest local farming best practices. Farmers in your program can then ask questions via WhatsApp and get answers, explained in their language. (Note that support for local languages is growing each year—it’s worth to check!)
Create a 24/7 emergency hotline where people can call, or text-in certain keywords to then receive the appropriate attention. This can be done to help participants receive vital information, humanitarian assistance, or to report unethical practices. The best part is that a chatbot can be available 24/7.
Public research and announcements
Find out who is eligible for your studies by providing an SMS-based menu that allows participants to provide quick, validated answers.
Weather warning and safety protocols
Chatbots are a great response tool when natural disasters are looming. You can send out weather warnings and have people register as safe—or request assistance.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual learning became an essential tool to many children, but a lot of children who don’t have internet were unfortunately left out. Create educational programs with SMS or IVR based chatbots to help reach families without internet access.
WhatsApp and other Messengers
WhatsApp and other messengers lend themselves nicely for chatbots. Even in low and middle income countries (LMICs) these messengers are in wide use and offer a great way to engage with people or allow them access to your services.
Cost-effective, highly scalable and reliable, chatbots based on WhatsApp are usually high on the shopping list.
Offline Chatbots: Reach People without Internet
As technology moves forward it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same level of access. The World Bank estimates that as of 2021 only 63% of the population uses the internet. That means there are still billions whom we still can’t reach online, and internet penetration is worse in low and middle income countries (LMICs).
How can you bridge this gap and make chatbots available to these offline populations?
SMS Chatbots are a great way to interact with people anywhere who don’t yet have a smartphone, or can’t regularly afford mobile data. Without requiring an internet connection, SMS chatbots can give the same level of service that for example a WhatsApp chatbot can give (within the restrictions of the SMS medium, such as maximum SMS length).
Chatbots on a Phone Call
With engageSPARK’s IVR features you can right now create a voice-menu that uses text-to-speech and speech recognition to interact with people all over the world, without needing to press any button on their phone. Many new languages become supported by these technologies, so it’s worth checking out.
Connecting these pieces to a generative AI like OpenAI’s ChatGPT allows anyone with a mobile phone to have a spoken conversation with a chatbot. Interested in exploring a prototype? Let us know!
What Kind of Chatbot Do You Need?
How do you build a chatbot? Basically, there are three different approaches, and they differ from each other in how rigid they are. Unfortunately, the more flexible a chatbot, the less safe it becomes.
In short, there is no single “best” technology—but there IS the best fit for what you want to do. Let’s have a look at how menu, conversational, and AI based chatbots are different from each other.
Today, many chatbots are in essence a menu: the bot offers you a choice between several options and you pick one of them. For example, your airline chatbot might give you a menu like this: 1. book a flight 2. manage a reservation 3. talk to a person. You then choose one of these options and might be asked to enter your booking number, followed by more choices: 1. view booking, 2. update booking. 3. cancel booking, and so on.
Because they follow a preconfigured flow chart, menu-based chatbots are fairly easy to use, build, and understand. While AI technology can be used in limits (for example to ignore typos), these chatbots are very rigid in terms of the situations they can handle. For this rigidity, you are rewarded with very safe behavior.
If you’re interested in these kinds of bots, you can build them right now using engageSPARK’s SMS, IVR Call, or WhatsApp flows.
If you’ve chatted with Amazon’s Alexa, you know this kind of bot. They have pre-defined things they can do, but you don’t need to be 100% exact in how you word your requests (though it helps). For example, you can ask for the weather in various ways and then get the current outlook.
This type of chatbot is also very safe, because what it can do and say is programmed up front. However, with a limited amount of AI “magic” it is able to understand a wider array of questions or commands than a menu-like chatbot would.
While conversational chatbots had their day, they never quite took off and have now largely been overtaken by large language models.
AI-powered bots are all the rage right now! OpenAI’s ChatGPT is the most famous example, but there are other such “large language models” out there and in use right now. These bots are able to grasp the context of a conversation using prior interactions, already available information and other user data to interact with customers and respondents alike.
The key advantage of this technology is that you don’t have to design the flow of every possible conversation. As long as the information is available, the bot can find and provide it.
So, what’s not to like? The issue is largely around safety and truth: Since you don’t control anymore what exactly the bot says, it can invent things (that’s called a hallucination) or reply in a harmful or objectionable way. If this is a concern depends largely on your project and the recipients.
Are you interested in a AI-powered chatbot for your humanitarian project? Let’s talk!
We’re working on an AI-powered Chatbot right now!
As AI tools change our world, a new gap is forming—an “AI gap” if you will, separating people who have easy access to these tools from others who don’t. In our mission to reach everyone with a phone, we’re right now working to bring AI-powered chatbots to people with and without internet.