A rudimentary, text-based version of more advanced virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri, Emma interprets typed questions and direct users to relevant parts of the USCIS website.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may be looking to Apple for inspiration in its latest attempt to improve customer service. Or at least Clippy, the googly-eyed Microsoft Word assistant of yore.
The agency has been plagued by much-delayed technology efforts, including ELIS, a $2.6 billion project intended to automate green card processing that may not be operational until 2018 or 2019. Now, the agency is testing out a prototype of Emma, a computer-generated assistant designed to guide users throughout the USCIS website.
Emma, a rudimentary, text-based version of more advanced virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri, interprets typed questions and direct users to relevant parts of the USCIS website. For instance, when asked, "How do I prepare for a trip to Brazil?", Emma might prompt users to choose an option based on their immigration status.
The agency is now testing Emma on a separate USCIS site, and encourages users to interact with it as much as possible.
"We can't guarantee yet that she'll know all the answers, but the more you ask her, the smarter she'll get," a disclaimer on the test site reads.
Once Emma's service is improved, USCIS plans to integrate the chat-box into the main USCIS site -- potentially in December, the Federal Times reported.
USCIS is also working on a version of Emma that can answer questions written in Spanish. Emma currently works best on desktop computers and laptops, but will soon operate better on mobile devices, according to USCIS.
The new system is named after Emma Lazarus, author of the poem "The New Colossus" printed on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty.
Nextgov has requested comment from USCIS.