Arthritis Research UK has teamed up with IBM to develop a Watson-powered virtual personal assistant, intended to provide information and advice to people living with arthritis.
People seeking help on Arthritis Research UK's website will get personalised information delivered to them in a form that feels like a natural conversation, claims IBM.
The service will be accessible on mobile phones and computers without the need to download an app. Three hundred people with arthritis are helping the charity to test the technology and provide feedback on the service on the charity's website, before it is publicly launched later this year.
The new service aims to help Arthritis Research UK to deal with the thousands of personal questions it gets every year.
People suffering from arthritis can struggle to get their questions answered elsewhere from a reputable source, claims the charity, and can get conflicting advice on the internet. The charity is therefore trusted to answer their questions, but it can struggle to respond to questions quickly.
Using IBM's Watson Conversation API, the charity hopes that it can answer sufferers' questions swiftly, and for those questions that are more detaled or complex, the charity's information and enquiries line will still be on-hand to help.
Liam O'Toole, CEO at Arthritis Research UK, said: "We know that there are millions of people in the UK living with arthritis whose lives are severely limited as they struggle with unanswered questions. We want to ensure that everyone has access to information and support, whenever and wherever they need it.
"We're really excited to be working with IBM Watson on this innovative new service that will enable us to have conversations with anyone seeking help, that we simply wouldn't be able to answer so quickly otherwise. We're confident that this new virtual assistant will help more people push back the ways arthritis limits their lives."
While the service will initially be used to provide general information about arthritis and exercises that people can print out or save online, the long-term aim is for the charity to be able to answer more questions, including those about diet and treatment options. IBM claims that as Watson learns from each interaction, it will refine the information that is surfaced.
The charity plans to use Watson's cognitive voice input/output and location services to provide other ways to interact with people who have arthritis. For example, the ability to understand questions through speech rather than having to type using a keyboard or touchscreen.
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