April 27, 2020 / 4:27 PM / a month ago

France launches AI voice assistant to help coronavirus patients

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask walks past a sign that reads "Courage", in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, April 25, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - French researchers on Monday launched a voice assistant that can help callers suffering from potential coronavirus symptoms and direct them towards emergency services or their doctors using artificial intelligence.

Anybody in France can now ring the “AlloCovid” service developed by French research institute INRIA, the University of Paris and French railway company SNCF, the group said.

On the line, a female voice greets callers with “Bonjour, I’m your virtual AlloCovid assistant ... Are you ready to start the questionnaire?”

Callers are asked for their postcode but not their name. Depending on their symptoms and pre-existing conditions, they are directed to the right professionals.

Developers hope the voice assistant, which is more easily accessible to old people who prefer telephones than mobile apps or filling forms, will help authorities detect new infection clusters after France exits lockdown on May 11.

The system can handle 1,000 calls at a time. Callers’ information is sent anonymously to health authorities and kept for seven days before being destroyed.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time artificial intelligence is being used to serve public health,” professor Xavier Jouven, who leads the project, told Le Monde newspaper.

The “AlloCovid” number is separate from the “StopCovid” mobile contact-tracing app the government wants to launch.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Giles Elgood

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