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Last Updated : Mar 26, 2020 12:51 PM IST | Source:

Coronavirus pandemic | Deep tech startups pitch in with chatbots, machine learning

From powering the MyGov Covid19 chatbot to helping airlines deal with waves of cancellation request, AI startups step up their game

Worried that those sniffles could be something serious? There is a good chance that you will discuss your symptoms with a chatbot, at least if you take your coronavirus queries to

As India locks down to stem the spread of the highly contagious severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), startups are looking at technological solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to tide over the problems being thrown up by this unprecedented crisis.

AI startup Haptik is at the forefront of the government’s fight against coronavirus. It has powered the MyGov coronavirus chatbot to address concerns of Indian citizens. India has, so far, reported 649 cases and 13 deaths.


“We have processed close to 10 million messages over the last one week,” said Aakrit Vaish, cofounder of Haptik. The Mumbai-based company was acquired last year and is being incubated by Reliance Industries as part of its digital initiatives and Jio ecosystem.

Haptik’s technology platform uses conversational AI to understand messages and provide answers to all their queries, all without any human intervention.

“We can address all types of queries, while primary inquiries are being answered by the bot. For details, we usually direct citizens to the government helpline number,” said Vaish.

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Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, got in touch with them for sharing chatbot data to develop predictive models for coronavirus symptoms. The data could be used to strengthen contact traceability to isolate affected people and find out early if someone is infected, he said.

Contact traceability involves tracking people who could have come in contact with an infected person and are at risk of contracting the virus or spreading it.

Vaish said with more and more data being collected, AI engines could be made smarter and used for developing solutions to help fight the infection.

Not just coronavirus queries, AI chatbots are helping tide over shortfall in staff as well.

As most call centres are not functional, these bots are addressing consumer queries. Be it flight bookings or banking transactions, bots are in thick of the action.

“We can take thousands of questions, convert them into conversations through our AI engine and use platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to communicate with customers, this can be rapidly scaled up also given that the crisis is going to last at least for a few months,” said Ravi Shankar, the co-founder of

The natural language processing (NLP), machine learning can be used to set up voice bots, which can replace call centres. They can be made operational through platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and others.

These voice bots can work 24/7 to interact with citizens. These could be used to address concerns of employees as well, Shankar said. Since most of the companies are working remotely, there is a limit to how much operations teams or human resource departments can handle. Voice bots can help there as well.

“We are receiving huge inbound interest from banks, financial institutions, services industry like airlines and hotels, even hospital and healthcare sector is showing interest now,” said Shankar. “The inbound queries have jumped by eight to ten times over the last five days.”

While AI and language processing is the future of technology, customers are still not sold to the idea of tech addressing complex services and customer queries. Many banks have deployed chatbots but their use is limited to balance inquiries or simple transactions like bill payments.

The diversity of Indian languages adds to the challenge.

Bengaluru-based Niki has developed its NLP engine for queries and service requests in languages like Bengali and Hindi. Co-founder Sachin Jaiswal said NLP technology was advanced enough to handle complex questions. But the key was the organisations--if their workflow and that of the bot are in tandem, then even complex queries can be addressed by AI.

The startup, which offers an app to customers and acts as a platform for voice commerce, is also doing its bit for those who are no tech-savvy. It is easy for those living in the cities to go online and order when they cannot step out of their homes.

For consumers in small towns, Niki provides a voice-based command system, where people can order groceries and other items by just speaking to it. The startup is offering the platform for ration delivery in six towns, including Ganganagar and Ajmer in Rajasthan and Rajkot in Gujarat, where partners deliver ration at doorsteps.

“We have seen a 30% jump in orders over the last few weeks,” said Jaiswal.

Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.

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First Published on Mar 26, 2020 12:31 pm
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