Apr 25, 2024 - News

Denver launches government info AI-powered chatbot

Image: Courtesy of City and County of Denver

The City of Denver has a new artificial intelligence chatbot named Sunny.

Why it matters: Denverites now essentially have their own version of Clippy, Microsoft's paperclip assistant, to help find city resources, report problems and learn about local events.

How it works: The city's website features a 24/7 virtual chat assistant in the bottom-right corner to help residents with things like scheduling a DMV appointment, reporting pothole and trash pickup issues, and asking about city services.

  • Sunny offers answers in 72 languages, and there is no limit to the number of questions you can pose. "The more questions you ask Sunny, the smarter Sunny gets," the city's website says.
  • Users can also use the feature through their cell phones by texting "hello" to 439311 (HEY311).

Zoom in: The city's Technology Services department spent $165,000 to buy and implement the software — Amazon Web Services' government-specific chatbot platform called Citibot, Denver's chief digital officer Jenny Schiavone tells us.

  • It took about a year to fine-tune the tool, she says.

The big picture: Other cities across the country have rolled out similar AI assistants in recent months, including in California and New York.

Yes, but: Some have encountered problems. For example, New York City's chatbot for business owners was caught giving business owners wrong answers and advice that could break the law.

What they're saying: Although Sunny does not pull content from non-city sources, the city acknowledges information could be inaccurate and states it does not assume "any responsibility or liability" for the generated content.

  • If problematic responses arise, which can be reported to the city, Schiavone says her team has protocols to "immediately address and mitigate any issues," but did not specify what those are.
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