Virtual Intelligent Chat Assistant (VICA) – A Natural Language Processing (NLP) Chatbot For Our Citizens | Singapore Government Developer Portal
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Overview

VICA is GovTech’s latest citizen assistant platform that leverages Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop chatbots that are more efficient for Government agencies to operate and more useful for end users. Compared to the older Ask Jamie Virtual Assistant, VICA’s automated processes help agencies more easily onboard and “train” their chatbots.

What is VICA?

VICA is a platform for agencies to build and train chatbots. It leverages the latest NLP engines like Google’s Dialogflow to enhance its performance. NLP is a branch of AI that involves the analysis of natural language, such as text and voice messages from humans. NLP can be understood as the brain of a chatbot. It helps chatbots gain better and fuller understanding of the inputs from users, and therefore provide more useful and relevant responses.

Some examples of chatbots built using VICA include Gov.sg on WhatsApp, COVID-19 Info Bot, and COVID-19 Chat for Biz.

Why Should VICA be Adopted?

Potential benefits for agencies that adopt VICA:

  • Less strenuous training process: Many chatbots are difficult to train because they require you to manually generate the question-response pairs. Furthermore, you will also often need to manually generate many variations of each question that you want your chatbot to handle. VICA makes training chatbots easier by automatically generating these variations for you, and you will only have to validate them. VICA is also able to detect potential conflicts between different questions and flag them out to you before the chatbot goes live.

  • Reduce “unknown” questions: A common problem chatbots face is “unknown” questions, which are situations where the chatbot fails to understand the user’s question and is unable to provide an informative response. The presence of too many unknown questions makes your chatbot less useful, as users are unable to find the information they need. One way to reduce unknown questions is to manually generate the appropriate response each time your chatbot faces such questions, but this can be taxing. In contrast, VICA can cluster unknown questions into related categories and even suggest appropriate responses for you. These automatic processes help you eliminate unknown questions by making it less taxing for you to deal with them.

  • More efficient importing of existing datasets: Most existing chatbots allow you to import content from existing datasets, such as FAQs or information pages. However, this importing process is largely manual and inefficient. You will often be required to manually label the question-response pairs and generate your own questions when your dataset only include facts. VICA makes the importing process more automated and efficient by generating the question-response pairs for you and suggesting relevant questions for your factual datasets. VICA is also able to compile multiple datasets and import them together, so you do not have to manually compile them or import them one at a time.

  • Reduced costs: With VICA’s automated processes, agencies can look forward to lower overheads required to build and maintain their chatbots.

These benefits will ultimately translate to a better chatbot, and thus a better experience for your users.

How Do You Use VICA?

Various live versions of VICA chatbots are accessible via the options below:

  • To enable Gov.sg on WhatsApp, please fill in this form.
  • To access COVID-19 Info Bot, click here (thereafter, click on the icon on the bottom right to engage the chatbot).
  • To access COVID-19 Chat for Biz, click here.

Steps for agencies to onboard VICA:

  1. Project Commissioning Memorandum to be signed between both parties
  2. Going through user story to understand agency’s requirements and whether VICA can fulfil the agency’s needs
  3. Agency to fill an onboarding form (for VICA to create the corresponding chatbot environment and relevant admin accounts)
  4. Project kick-off session commences
  5. Schedule regular project check-in sessions with the agency (for project status updates, answer any queries from content owners, etc)
  6. VICA to conduct training session for agency (covers basic NLP, VICA Admin Console, and Google DialogFlow)
  7. Chatbot content creation by agency
  8. VICA QA to go through the intents/training phrase/responses of the chatbot
  9. Agency to address any issues reported by VICA QA
  10. Chatbot goes live!

After the chatbot goes live, agencies can use the VICA support portal to log tickets when they encounter issues. Agencies will also receive any subsequent chatbot enhancements released by VICA.

Success Stories

The volatile and rapidly evolving situation during the COVID-19 pandemic meant that individuals and businesses found it difficult to keep up with the latest information. VICA-based COVID-19 ChatBots were instrumental in resolving this information gap. Find out more about the COVID-19 ChatBots here.

What’s Next

The product team is looking to increase automation processes so that fewer human interventions are required in reviewing the chatbot’s responses and in monitoring whether its responses are relevant and useful to users.

The team is also working on developing ways to better understand user behaviour. Currently, feedback is received via star ratings and thumbs up/down buttons that are explicitly provided by users of the chatbot. In the future, the team is also looking to incorporate implicit feedback via the types of queries posed and their associated contexts.

Contact Information

For enquiries, email daniel_chong@tech.gov.sg.

Last updated 24 February 2022


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