After almost a year of development, GC’s first interactive FAQ recently went live, enabling users on GC’s website to ask any question about the university at any time of the day.
The project is the brainchild of former chief of information officer Robert Orr. The initial investment in the technology was $5,000, which Orr funded.
The FAQ is an AI, or artificial intelligence, named Ask Thunder. The service is available on GC’s website in the top right corner as a link labeled “Chat-FAQ.”
“Our efforts were to help provide quick and accurate answers to save someone from having to call or email for the answer,” said Cindy Bowen, director of operations in IT.
Maria Gordon, an administrative assistant in the IT department, said she hopes the technology will give current and prospective students, parents and high school counselors convenient and quick access to commonly asked questions.
“This will allow for assistance outside of normal business operating hours and decrease the amount of email, phone calls and other inquiries,” Gordon said.
SGA’s chief of staff Nathan Graham said he hopes to see the technology catch on.
“Rather than trying to sit there and search for it or Google it, they’ll just go, ‘Hey, this thing can help me answer this,’” Graham said. “[Questions] like ‘Where can I pay a parking ticket?’”
Although its Q&A database is not yet complete, Ask Thunder can already answer a variety of questions, often including helpful overviews or links to webpages with more information. If it doesn’t have an answer, it provides a phone number and a link to GC’s directory.
“Some of the questions do not have an answer in our database,” Bowen said. “We are working with university communications and campus departments to get answers to submitted questions. As we close these gaps, the service gets better.”
Development for the project began in July 2018. The first task was to find an affordable AI solution, a task Bowen said was given to director of system administration Jamie DeFoor.
By October, the system was ready for content, and Orr began working with IT and several other departments to build the Q&A database. At this time, both Gordon and the SGA became involved in the project.
“We collaboratively scheduled a series of informational sessions where we introduced the concept of Ask Thunder, gathered feedback on content and showed students how they can Feed Thunder at any time through our website,” Gordon said. “The students who provided feedback were excited about the concept and thought it would be beneficial to both current students, as well as prospective students and parents of both populations.”
Feed Thunder is a portal on the GC’s Ask Thunder webpage where students can submit questions and answers to the system.
Learning AI technology, however, can be abused. Fortunately, the IT department took this into consideration during development.
“The misuse of other systems is the main reason we wanted to begin with the database type of AI we are using,” Bowen said. “Our AI learns to provide the best answer from answers crafted by university personnel. Since our AI doesn’t learn from the questions, we are able to avoid the pitfall of it learning ‘bad habits.’”
The team crafted a set response for inappropriate content: “As the mascot for GC, I try to always demonstrate the three R’s: Reason, Respect and Responsibility and will ignore your entry.” The response explains why an answer will not be provided while also remaining professional.