Starting Monday, January 25, Boston University students and parents with questions about admissions, financial assistance, and more will get many answers immediately, day or night. No, BU staff in those departments are not working around the clock. The response to questions will come from the artificial intelligence virtual bot known as BUzz.
For the past two years, BUzz has been honing its skills, and helping out students on the Medical Campus, answering questions about housing and financial aid. This week, it officially expands its services to four departments—Financial Assistance, Undergraduate Admissions, University Registrar, and the University Service Center—all on the Charles River Campus (CRC).
Keesa McKoy, director of communications for Enrollment & Student Administration (ENSA), says BUzz is more than up to the task, buoyed not only by its rollout on the Medical Campus, but also by its soft launch on the CRC two months ago. In that time, says McKoy, BUzz has had more than 10,000 interactions with more than 4,000 people, nearly half of whom placed their inquiries after regular business hours. BUzz is now equipped to answer some 2,091 questions, and do so in three languages: English, Spanish, and simplified Chinese. Next year, the software will add Korean, French, Vietnamese, and Arabic.
What doesn’t BUzz do? Live chat, at least not at the moment. And because it is artificial intelligence, it won’t be able to answer questions beyond the topics of the departments in its knowledge base. BUzz does provide written answers to questions, and it usually includes links to helpful web pages. There is also an option to submit a chatbot form for more detailed or specific questions that will be answered by Combined Enrollment Services, ENSA’s customer support team, within two business days. And like all AI systems, BUzz never stops learning. Every question asked helps BUzz and the humans behind it better understand what questions students and parents want answers to, and those questions and answers are added to appropriate web pages or to the bot’s knowledge base. The most often asked questions, McKoy says, concern admissions deadlines, notification dates, and information about scholarships.
BUzz, which was created with help from the software developer Ocelot, is not associated with the chatbots used by Healthway and Back2BU. Its support is aimed primarily at undergraduate and prospective students, and its knowledge base includes topics such as applications (Financial Aid or Admissions), deadlines, registration, the academic calendar, and financial literacy.
Want to know how it works? Visit the Ask BUzz web page.