By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

May 6, 2020 | 9 min read

An AI-driven chatbot has been created in Singapore to offer social distancing-friendly activity ideas during the coronavirus pandemic.

The chatbot, called 'Ask Phoebe' and created by Taiger, is also intended to help businesses market their services, keeping them in business.

To scale this in May, Taiger is starting a movement called #MakeHomesGreatAgain to help people make better use of their time while stuck at home with their families.

One company that has joined the movement is Gush, a Singapore-based startup that makes sustainable paint and advanced building materials.

Lester Leong, the co-founder of the start-up, notes that studies forecast the level of mental illness incidences to rise in the coming months, after the 'circuit breaker' period in Singapore.

The Singapore government previously announced a further four weeks of lockdown measures, which it is calling the ‘circuit breaker’, requiring people to stay at home until 1 June.

He says the chatbot will help keep people occupied within this period to keep up mental health levels.

“This pandemic, I feel, is a great time for internal reflection for both individuals and companies alike, to understand their fundamental purpose and deep dive into projects that they have embarked on before on a much deeper level,” he explains to The Drum.

“Primarily I saw the strong alignment between what both Taiger and Gush were doing and thought it was a chance for us to mutually tap on each others' current reach.”

He adds: “As someone who has developed my own chatbots in the past, chatbots represent to me one of the ways in which customers (whose attention spans are getting increasingly short) can get immediate answers to any of the questions they may have.”

As part of its Stay Healthy, Go Digital movement, IMDA, which has a statutory board of the Singapore government, that develops and regulates the infocomm and media sectors, has collated a directory of educational and entertainment options to help engage people who are staying at home.

"We are encouraged by industry efforts, such as Taiger’s MakeHomesGreatAgain initiative, which complements national efforts to help Singaporeans live their life as normally as possible through digital technology," says Howie Lau, the assistant chief executive of media and innovation at IMDA,

Paul Soon, the chief executive of MullenLowe in Singapore, agrees and adds chatbots have been overlooked as it is prevalent everywhere but it is in times like these that bring chatbots’ relevance to the fore.

He explains with non-essential services on hold, service industries like banks and payment companies, which have been relying on service staff in their operations, are starting to feel the need to increase the service coverage of chatbots to address more complex questions typically left to human staff.

As an agency, Soon says MullenLowe is helping its clients anticipate those queries, create the relevant content and train the bots to sense and respond accurately.

“Creativity and tech coming together to create a positive impact have always been core to us. This initiative from Taiger has the potential to benefit both people as well as businesses, especially SMEs. We see these challenging times as an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded companies to step up and contribute to society when it is most need,” says Soon.

“I think for many including myself, this pandemic has taught us to be resilient and creative, to find other ways and resources to meet business timelines and operational requirements.”

He continues: “But it has also taught us as a company to be kind and proactive in helping each other stay positive and on track. I believe many companies like us will find ourselves emerging stronger after this pandemic.”

Another agency, Publicis Media, is exploring ways in which it can leverage the #MakeHomesGreatAgain movement to help its employees stay positive and productive during the pandemic.

Ian Loon, the chief executive officer of Publicis Media Singapore says the initiative is aligned to the agency’s core values in making sure its people are taken care of and fits into the broader employee engagement plan.

“Everyone is learning to cope with the new normal. Many feel that they are doing two or three jobs looking after their children or loved ones now that schools and workplaces are closed,” he explains.

“They have a lot on their plates. I don't think it's about doing more but as an employer, provide a support strategy and accountability structure to help individual staff and teams calibrate the right mindsets and offer practical handles to help them function at their very best while staying positive.”

Ultimately, Taiger hopes this pandemic will allow people to do things for the very first time through 'Ask Phoebe' or through following the examples by others who quote the hashtag, according to Joshua Kwah, the global head of marketing at Taiger.

“With being cooped up at home with work, kids, dependencies all closer than comfort and at a higher level of intensity, it's easy to slip into mood swings or feelings of depression,” he says.

“It is an opportunity to build up your emotional bank - something that is often neglected in the fast pace of life but so essential to your wellbeing, inter-relationships as well as your productivity at work connecting with people.”

To recap the content on AI and digital transformation from the world’s first The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival, go here.

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