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Arthritis Research UK Introduces IBM Watson-Powered ‘Virtual Assistant’

Arthritis sufferers in the UK will soon have access to a ‘virtual personal assistant’ that will provide information and advice to people living with Arthritis. This new service is powered by IBM Watson, a commercially available cognitive computing service, in partnership with the UK-based charity Arthritis Research UK.

Liam O'Toole, Chief Executive Officer 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 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.’

The charity has teamed up with IBM to ensure people seeking help will have access to personalised information from the Arthritis Research UK website, delivered in a form that feels like a natural conversation. The service will be accessible on mobile phones and computers, without the need to download an app. There are currently 300 people with arthritis helping Arthritis Research UK to test and feedback before it is launched publicly on the charity’s website later this year.

Tapping into IBM's Watson Conversation API, the charity has found a way for people with arthritis to quickly and easily get answers to questions at any time. This new service will mean that for the first time Arthritis Research UK will be able to provide every person in the UK seeking information about arthritis, immediate access to the most accurate information tailored to them. It will be supported by the charity’s information and enquiries line, where a team will be on hand to help answer detailed or complex questions.   

The digital personal assistant was developed over five months using the charity’s knowledge and expertise as well as advice from healthcare professionals, people with arthritis and IBM Watson cognitive computing experts. As IBM Watson learns from each interaction, it will refine the information that is available to users. Following this, Arthritis Research UK plans to leverage Watson cognitive voice input/output and location services to extend its capabilities, for example to understand questions delivered via speech (versus typed via a keyboard).   

‘Arthritis Research UK developed the Watson-powered digital personal assistant themselves, providing a terrific example of how IBM's open, cloud-based Watson development platform is making cognitive computing broadly accessible to organisations and individuals worldwide,’ said Cameron Brooks, IBM European Director for Watson in the Public Sector. ‘Further, Arthritis Research UK’s use of Watson APIs is a model for organisations thinking about how they might integrate cognitive computing into their services in order to positively impact the lives of people living with a serious health condition.’

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