Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Google launches virtual agent tool to answer questions about COVID-19

The Rapid Response Virtual Agent program is designed for government agencies, healthcare organizations and other entities severely impacted by the global pandemic.

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Google Cloud on Wednesday announced that it's offering a special version of Contact Center AI, software that helps businesses deploy virtual customer support agents, specifically for answering questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. The new Rapid Response Virtual Agent program is designed for government agencies, healthcare organizations and other sectors severely impacted by the global crisis, including travel, financial services and retail.  

With Rapid Response Virtual Agent, Google says organizations can quickly deploy chatbots to answer questions 24/7 across voice, chat and social channels. 

The new program is available globally in the 23 languages supported by Dialogflow, the core technology behind Contact Center AI. Dialogflow is a development platform for building chatbots and interactive voice responses (IVR). 

The Rapid Response Virtual Agent program lets customers use Dialogflow to customize chat dialogues with customers looking for COVID-19 information. Customers can also integrate open-source templates from organizations with similar digital tools. For instance, Google's sister company Verily, in partnership with Google Cloud, launched the open source Pathfinder virtual agent template for health systems and hospitals.

Last month, Google Cloud outlined some of the other tools and support it's providing for workers and organizations in response to the pandemic. For instance, it's offering access to its portfolio of Google Cloud learning resources, including a  catalog of training courses, hands-on labs on Qwiklabs and interactive Cloud OnAir webinars at no cost until April 30. 

Meanwhile, as Google uses tools like Contact Center AI to promote access to authoritative COVID-19 information, it's also working to stem the flow of misinformation coming from its products. For instance, the company is rejecting coronavirus-related Android apps from independent developers. 

The internet giant has also taken heat for its negative impact on the local news business at a time when responsible local reporting is critically important.