What is the problem?

In order to mitigate fake news on COVID-19 it is imperative to actively involve people in this challenge against the spread of fake news regarding Coronavirus pandemic. There are plenty of passive tools for fact checking, but the harsh reality is that people do not use them. Minerva is active, and proactively engages people to spread right news and leave apart the fake ones.

What is Minerva?

Minerva is a personal AI assistant always online, able to give fast answers to the most frequent questions on COVID 19 pandemic. Minerva can be adopted for free and easily personalized by local, national and international institutions. Minerva can be used by anyone who is willing to distinguish real news from fake news on COVID 19 pandemic. Fake news on COVID 19 is the main problem we want to tackle with #MinervaBot: 1) By extracting and filtering news only from well known institutions systems like the EU HP, the WHO and various national, regional or local sanitary authorities and their websites, our goal is to promote the use of trustful sources among users (citizens of all ages, companies, institutions, etc.) 2) Through the power of gamification, proactively encouraging people able to fastly detect real or fake news, we want to increase truthfulness among users. A system of badges encourages people to share their results in detecting fake news. Minerva concerns a lot of functionalities such as: Explains and informs you on current national decrees and ordinances Keeps you informed about national and regional situation on the contagion curve Sends you the latest national and regional updates and news Play the quiz to fight against Coronavirus Fake News Informs you on how to donate blood Keeps you updated with a daily news broadcast system Each of the above functionalities and services within the Minerva ecosystem are evolving continuously day by day to give an ever growing and better user experience. However, the system is easily expandable with new services and functionalities.

Why Minerva?

Minerva, the roman goddess of wisdom (Atena, in the greek tradition), tells us how important it is to be wise when finding the sources of knowledge. The owl represents the capacity to see clear despite the darkness. The owl’s colors represent Optimism, Security, Calm, Creativity, Femininity and Success. Our very first inspiration story was what happened to Federica, one of our supporters. She had her husband blocked in Codogno, the very first village hit by COVID 19 in Italy, in Lombardy. The first place to be declared a “Red zone”. In a few hours people faced restrictions. It was the very beginning of the outbreak of the pandemic. She tried to call the emergency number given trying to understand what to do to reach her husband that was blocked. She caught the emergency line only after more than 6 hours, at 3 a.m. The adoption of #MinervaBot would have allowed Federica fastening her search for answers. The Italian Ministry of Health told us the number of calls received by the official help-phone at the start of the emergency was about 550,000 calls per day. People were asking almost everything. People requests (%) were been as per following list: 1) 21% : transmission modalities of the COVID 19; 2) 22% : protection systems to be adopted; 3) 22% : COVID 19 symptoms; 4) 17% : sanitary’ treatments; 5) 10% : new instructions given by the Italian Government; 6) 8% : how to get buffers. This pushed us to the creation of a virtual assistant.

These are the first reasons why Minerva Bot was created.

What is the expected impact for Minerva?

Minerva is helping italian local institutions in spreading right news and spurring citizens to fight against fake news. People can chat with Minerva through one of the largest social networks in the world, Facebook; or on the website of the major public and private institutions and companies. Minerva is a chatbot, is fast and free for citizens and for any local and national institution.

Technology behind Minerva

Chatbot Minerva is virtual assistant able to retrieve information from certified sources only by exploiting artificial intelligence. Technical aspect: Minerva lives upon a highly reliable microservices ecosystem held by replicated Microsoft Azure Machines. MQTT Protocol has been used for the communication between different components in order to get a totally asynchronous and fully scalable system during messages elaboration. Minerva, as each chatbot deployed from our platform, relies on a fully owned ML environment able to understand the users' needs. It’s also able to categorize users’ questions and by profiling them in the course of time, to personalize the provided answers (we also worked with lawyers on the users privacy, as explained in the section on our prototype). The main technology we’ve used to develop the micro services is Java Language with the support of the SpringBoot Framework. The storage, that maintains anonymous user’s data about conversational context, is a NoSQL database. To handle requests, the system is using load balancers able to sort requests among the different active target machines. This solution is ready to deploy, scale up to handle millions of requests per minute and it’s really adaptable to any cloud or on-premise environments. The system provides a fully managed internationalization (i18n) to allow chatbots to speak each language desired. i18n is provided as a fully-managed system by our teams with the possibility, from the users, to adjust sentences or pronunciations as they wish. At the end, the entire ecosystem is provided by a speech-to-text and a text-to-speech mechanism to allow a quick interaction between humans and computers.

Our Product

The English version of Minerva is already an available product at the Minerva Official Page. This system can be installed on any Facebook or web page, with a setup of less than a minute. We already tackled a series of problems:

  • Scalability: Minerva is deployed on a cloud provider of the most important Italian communication company named TIM.
  • Privacy: while often privacy is left behind, we decided to tackle this problem with the free help of an Italian lawyer expert in GDPR. We already have the privacy documents ready, they only have to be translated privacy
  • Integrations: Minerva can be integrated and managed directly by interested local institutions. We provide a free webinar on how to set it up.

Business Plan

Until present days a group of informal business people, engineers, developers and lawyers offered their own abilities for Minerva. Many of them are working together with us to implement #MinervaBot and other projects. The technical system behind Minerva can scale up as needed with a really low upfront cost. For the whole emergency phase cloud infrastructure costs will be covered by TIM, while men work is being offered by team members. In fact, in this emergency phase Minerva can be adopted by local institutions for free and in a really short time. An economical contribution, like the one to which we aspire in this hackathon, is required in order to pay for the system translation and indeep the legal side.

The subsequent phases of the project will be evaluated together with involved institutions, in order to maintain the project alive and sustainable. After the emergency phase the system will be paid in order to cover costs and generate a revenue. The main envisioned costs are related to:

  • Cloud Infrastructure
  • Maintenance The institutions and private entities will cover these expenses by paying a direct fee to Minerva. The fee is calculated upon the traffic and usage of the bot (e.g., each message will cost a small fee).

In a long term vision, Minerva may also introduce services for citizens (e.g., food delivery, advertising, tourist guide, and so on) to provide a revenue mechanism and become cost-free.

Accomplishment

We are very proud to have participated in this #EUvsVirusHackaton. We talked a lot, we worked and shared everything, we sweated, rejoiced and cried. We have strengthened our relationships and maximized our potential to provide the best result. We are encouraging people to go and visit #Minerva web pages and to adopt our solutions. More than 20 Italian local Institutions have adopted #MinervaBot, given the mention obtained by the Italian Ministry of Health. A lot of people are sharing via Twitter, right now, news on our progress. @TIM_Official (Telecom Italy) has posted this video on YouTube: TIM WCAP is supporting our project hosting it on the TIM (Telecom Italy) cloud infrastructure The Messenger page #MinervaBot is increasing views and contacts.

What we learned

We learned that meeting with others enriches you. Everyone's opinions have been a great added value, even when not shared by everyone. We have grown up. We have seen how many people have worked hard, like us, to try to transform this tragic moment into an opportunity to relaunch, an opportunity for everyone. The continuous work experience we have had in the last 3 days has allowed us to significantly improve some aspects of the service related to the Minerva User Experience compared to gamification.

What's next for Minerva Bot

As per today #Minerva is able to manage 25,000 conversations simultaneously per minute without going down. By scaling we can increase the system capacities. The social might be exponential as the architecture of Minerva can be made available in Open format to the various Countries that can customize the information and services for their citizens quickly, using Google Doc modules. Next objectives, after the implementation in Italy and having obtained numerous validations and approvals from Italian Institutions, might be the adoption of #Minerva Bot in Europe. The project must be able to collect and aggregate reliable information, taking into account the different needs, regulations, and services available in the Countries that decide to adopt #Minerva Bot. To allow the system to scale quickly across multiple Countries, these must be able to independently update the information and services to satisfy the needs of their citizens, from time to time. The post sanitary emergency scenario should give a major progress to #MinervaBot. The tool is designed to adapt and evolve parallel to the evolutionary scenarios. The tool is designed to adapt and evolve parallel to the evolutionary scenarios of the pandemic or hypothetical post-health crisis. Thanks to the contribution of the Pan European Hackathon we have decided that in the near future #MinervaBot will become an indispensable tool for the resolution of any problems arising in the economic and social sectors. Anyone who needs certain information on the documents and the necessary procedures, for example, to undertake a trip, will find in #MinervaBot the indispensable support to carry it out safely.

Be wise and change from fakes to facts. Adopt an owl. Adopt #MinervaBot.

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