AI and chatbots – the future is smart

By Claire Cullen
09 May 2018

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Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionise a number of industries including the not-for-profit sector. According to the technology analyst Gartner, AI will be the most disruptive technology during the next decade due to its extreme computational power, endless amounts of data and unprecedented advances in deep neural networks.

Aside from improving the productivity of a charity’s digital presence by reducing the need for human interaction, it can significantly improve charitable giving. In fact, AI could even have an impact on the public’s well being. For example, imagine a world where a concerned parent could visit a charity’s website, answer a series of questions, powered by AI, to assess the severity of their child’s symptoms and be offered advice on next steps.

This interaction could occur in near-real time which, in turn, could dramatically improve the rate of diagnosis of serious illnesses – and it doesn’t stop there. AI is smart, really smart. Once embedded, AI continues learning through interaction. As users interact, it can analyse patterns in the data and predicts what information users need before they have even asked for it.

The word on everyone’s lips: chatbot

This functionality is made possible by implementing a chatbot. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users and offer charities the opportunity to engage with people seeking advice, donors and encourage advocates.

Take isolated individuals for example. In the UK, 3.64 million people aged 65+ live alone – many of which are housebound. Imagine, if they could access a website and have an audio conversation with a chatbot. It could offer a platform to air their health concerns, provide mental support or quite simply, keep them company.

One way to implement a chatbot is to use Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services which lets you build apps with powerful algorithms to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret our needs using natural methods of communication, with just a few lines of code. Intelligent features, such as emotion and sentiment detection, vision and speech recognition, language understanding, knowledge and search, can be added to web applications, across multiple devices and platforms, such as iOS, Android and Windows.

Opportunity or challenge?

AI and chatbots present a huge opportunity, however, there are a number of challenges to consider. Firstly, it is paramount that charities recognise and publicise the difference between human and robot interactions. Chatbots have their limitations and it is vital end users understand they are talking to a computer – or make way for challenge number two, liability!

For example, if a mental health charity were to implement a chatbot, limitations would need to be in place for conversation topics and boundaries. A trigger system could be introduced so, if a user voiced concerns regarding their safety or discussed suicidal thoughts, a representative of the charity would be alerted to intervene. 

Regardless of the challenges, the operational and user experience advantages that AI and chatbots offer are significant. Charities rely heavily on volunteers and admin support is no different. Often, incoming queries are managed by a small team of volunteers or full-time employees that also manage finance, donations and marketing – the list goes on.

Relieving incoming queries from their workload can significantly improve the productivity of a charity and helps to alleviate internal pressure.

As the digital revolution develops, communicating with robots will increasingly become the norm and charities should consider it an opportunity to improve operational efficiency and build relationships with its personas in a unique and customised manner.


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