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2001 fiction set to be science fact? NASA boffin mulls artificial intelligence to watch over the lunar Gateway




If humans are to go beyond the Moon, they must rely less on ground control and more on AI systems to perform operations such as flying, and conduct scientific experiments more autonomously, according to a NASA paper [PDF] out this week.

“Future missions to Mars will require crew and ground to operate independently from Earth-based Mission Control,” Jeremy Frank, a Group Lead of Planning and Scheduling Group, in the Intelligent Systems Division, at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, wrote in his paper. “The goal is to employ AI software to help astronauts carry out their missions more autonomously.”

NASA has set its eyes on sending the “first woman and next man” to the Moon by 2024 and using that as a stepping stone to Mars. The American agency has proposed a new lunar habitat known as the lunar Gateway, a spaceship that will orbit the satellite, providing scientists with an opportunity to access more of its rocky surface than previous missions. Smaller than the International Space Station, it’ll house up to four astronauts.

The Lunar Gateway will be largely made up of four components: a habitat for the explorers to live, an airlock system to let them in an out of the spacecraft, a power propulsion vessel to travel to the Moon, and a logistics hub to accept cargo shipments.

“Small crews cannot take on all Gateway functions performed by ground today, and so vehicles must be more automated to reduce the crew workload for such missions,” the paper stated.

Astronauts are expected to occupy Gateway only for a few months and the spaceship will have to continue running by itself in periods when the crew has returned back to Earth. NASA hopes that it will be able to execute operations autonomously for up to 21 days without the help of ground control by employing robots.

AI algorithms will be applied to three main areas: crew autonomy, vehicle system management, and autonomous robots.


HPE’s Eng Lim Goh on spaceborne computers, NASA medals – and AI at the final frontier


Crew autonomy will let astronauts carry out their missions more smoothly. Vehicle system management focuses on turning the Gateway into a self-managing system, and it will be particularly important when no humans are aboard. Finally, autonomous robots operating alongside humans will also help fulfill the aforementioned objectives.

When applied to the Lunar Gateway, Frank envisions using AI to monitor, plan and execute programs, and detect and possibly fix faults. A few examples include using software to analyse water quality to provide clean drinking water or a flight controller to display information about the spacecraft’s current conditions, much like a car’s dashboard.

“Due to the mission-critical nature of human spaceflight, autonomy technology must be robust and resilient, both to changes in environment, faults and failures, and also the somewhat unpredictable nature of human-machine collaboration. Specialized forms of automated reasoning and machine learning are key technologies to enable fault management,” the paper said.

The Gateway project will allow NASA to put new technologies to the test. “And then we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars,” said Frank. ®

Sponsored: Detecting cyber attacks as a small to medium business


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The Insurance of Tomorrow will be driven by Voice, Vernacular & Video — reveals Mantra Labs’ Market Research on AI Chatbots in Insurance




The healthcare industry took the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic from the very beginning. It was, and still is, a humongous task for hospitals to deal with the rising number of COVID patients as well as handling the regular consults. 

To delve deeper into the state of healthcare in the COVID times, we interviewed Parag Sharma, CEO, Mantra Labs Pvt Ltd. Parag shares his insights on how technology can help in delivering digital-first health experiences for patient care in the New Normal.

Parag is a product enthusiast and tinkerer at heart and has been at the forefront of developing innovative products especially in the field of AI. He also holds over ten years of experience working in the services line and has been instrumental in launching several startups in the Internet & Mobile space. His rich domain expertise and innovative leadership have helped Mantra climb to the top 100 innovative InsurTechs in the World – selected by FinTech Global. 

Catch the interview:  

Connect with Parag- LinkedIn

COVID-19 and Its impact on Healthcare Organizations

Considering the COVID situation, according to you how has COVID-19 impacted the IT & service operations among healthcare organizations?

Parag:  Since the onset of COVID-19, the healthcare sector has been deeply impacted. Institutions are facing a serious crunch in manpower. IT support systems which were usually manned and managed by a large team of IT professionals are not available in the same strength. Resource allocation’ is one of the biggest concerns due to physical and mental exhaustion of the healthcare workforce. 

Hospitals are facing issues such as operational disruption due to staff quarantine, supply-chain delays and sudden decline in patient footfalls, difficulty in sustaining fixed costs, etc. People are not comfortable getting out of the safety confinements of their homes due to the rising risk of getting infected with the virus. Hospitals will have to reassess their future strategy and budgets in light of the uncertain economic situation.

Preparing for the Future

What can hospitals do to ensure the continuity of their customer-facing operations in the wake of a second Pandemic wave?

Parag: There are many things that hospitals can do to manage themselves in this hour of crisis. Being more digital than what they are would be one step forward for all of them. They can bring their IT systems to the cloud so that the person can access data and manage their work remotely. They can enable their patients to book appointments and enquire about services through apps and chatbots which won’t require them to call the reception or come to the hospital. These are some of the services which hospitals can provide to their customers with minimum physical contact. 

Related: Manipal Hospital’s move to a self-service healthcare mobile application

Hospitals can extend Telehealth services to their patients. Recently, telehealth has proved to be useful especially when there is asymmetry between the number of patients and healthcare providers. I think it will be very useful for healthcare institutions to deploy telehealth solutions to provide medical facilities to people who have so far been outside the benefits of healthcare.

New Expectations in Health Experiences

Is consumer behavior defined by the ‘new normal’ going to change the way we access healthcare from this point on?

Parag: Yes, people will expect a completely different way to access healthcare services from now on. Hospitals should gear-up and rise to this occasion. The pandemic has also provided a new opportunity to adopt a completely different approach in the way healthcare is delivered. They always felt that medical care cannot be provided remotely but now this is happening and people are appreciating remote healthcare services. Hospitals and healthcare institutions are convinced that telehealth and remote care will be more successful soon.

Technology in Healthcare can Bridge Operational Gaps

What are the operational challenges, as far as digital capabilities go, that hospitals are facing currently? And, what steps must they take to bridge these gaps?

Parag: Operational challenges are not just digital challenges. But a lot of these challenges can be addressed with technology. For example, Electronic Health Records which hospitals manage within the premises can be moved to the cloud so that the person can access these records on the cloud itself and need not come to the hospital. 

Related: Medical Image Management: DICOM Images Sharing Process

Secondly, if you deploy telehealth and telemedicine solutions, irrespective of where your patients are or doctors are, hospitals can deliver the required care to its patients. You can even extend your diagnostics services to your patients by giving them an application through which they can seamlessly book appointments for consults, diagnostics, or pathological services and resolve their queries, etc. Simply by giving a seamless interface either through bots or applications can go a long way in providing better health experiences to the customers.

Role of Chatbots in Superior Customer Experiences

According to you, what role does chatbots powered by Artificial Intelligence have in the Healthcare CX landscape?

Parag: Chatbots are the simplest example of the implementation of AI-based technology in healthcare. There are a lot of things which bots can do simplistically. For example, if a patient wants to book an appointment with the doctors, instead of going through a complex web applications and interfaces, what if I can simply write “I want to book an appointment with the doctor Dr. XYZ at 4 pm” and the bot can figure out in case the time slot is available with that particular doctor, it will confirm the appointment followed by a payment process if the payment has to be made upfront. 

Apart from this, you can extend your bots to provide e-consultations where doctors can do remote consultations via audio and video features of a chatbot. So there is a huge scope for bots beyond answering routine queries by customers or booking appointments. It does not stop just there. You can extend chatbot functionalities to support functions such as admin, HR, finance, and business process efficiency so that they can provide better services to their customers.

Related: Healthcare Chatbots: Innovative, Efficient, and Low-cost Care

Chatbot Use Cases in Healthcare

Could you tell us some possible bot use cases for delivering better customer experiences to digital health users?

Parag: Apart from booking appointments and resolving customer queries, these bots can conduct remote consultations, internal processes, health symptom checker, out-patient video consultation, second opinion consultation, ordering medicines, psychological counseling & mental wellness, scenario-based risk advice, Heroism Recognition for employees, etc. Also, it can be further extended to help patients enquire about health insurance related queries, and all the interactions between insurance companies and hospitals can be provided to the patient. 

Related: Healthcare & Hospitals Use Cases | Digital Health

The Road Ahead

COVID-19 has forced hospitals to revise patient support strategy with limited operational staff that is bringing every day a new challenge. A way out is to heavily rely on digital innovation.

In India we have a disparity between the no. of healthcare providers and care seekers. Without technology, I don’t think there is any way healthcare institutions will be able to scale to a level where they can provide meaningful services to such a large number of people. Hospitals can invest in setting up an information exchange; making the process as seamless as possible; and removing all possible inefficiencies from the supply chain through technology.

Future growth for hospitals will come from digital technology because patients will opt more for digital platforms. And it is up to hospitals to catch up with the pace at which modern technology is developing. We, at Mantra Labs, have achieved several use cases including hospitals/diagnostic centers that are able to deliver superior health experiences.


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Chatbots in Business Evolution




Peter Michael

In mathematics, a type of variation called direct variation describes ‘a simple relationship between two variables — such that we observe an increase of one variable when the other increases, or a decrease of the same when the other reduces’. This law works in business as well, wherein the population of the workforce determines the productivity of the company. However, recent development in artificial intelligence defies this law. In 2020, a business could have only a team of essential workers with a couple of well-utilized computers and do more than a larger company which has the help of its thousands of workers but without digital intervention or its innovative implementation whatsoever. The usefulness of computer technology in business has been paced recently in such a way that most businesses will not need to hire more workers in the future. Even now, we see large organizations displacing thousands of workers and replacing them with robots.

Smaller businesses and startups might not have the capacity to own industrial robots, but everyone has the opportunity of the chatbot technology available to them. Chatbots are a species of robots, which essentially are ‘software robots’ that can interact with humans in their common languages through text or audio chats. They interact as well with their [internet] environment, accessing resources from nodes across the digital globe and fetching data from the real world through sensors and detection tools such as computer vision, speech recognition, handwriting recognition and so on. The term ‘Chatbot’ was originally coined as ‘chatterbot’ by Michael Mauldin in 1994 in his bid to demonstrate conversational computer programs. However, a mathematician named Alan Turing was the first person who developed a computer program that could mimic or simulate human intelligence — this history is reflected in the movie “The Imitation Game, 2014”. This mathematician, Alan Turing, stamped his name on the chronicle of artificial intelligence and of the chatbot technology when he invented the ‘Turing Test’ in 1950, a method in artificial intelligence for determining whether or not a computer is capable of thinking like a human being.

1. Building a Discord Bot for ChatOps, Pentesting or Server Automation

2. 8 Best IT Workflow Automation Practices to follow for Chatbots

3.How to prevent chatbot attacks?

4. Adding a conversational interface to your app with Dialogflow

With the NLP technology, chatbots can also display emotional characteristics in their interactions (chatting) since it allows them to understand different insinuations in different users’ messages. Also consequential is their ability to infer a user’s mood by examining the tone in their speech or text replies. Apart from this intellectual and mild emotional intelligence, chatbots prove better than human customer service agents since they don’t have to interact with customers one at a time — they can chat with a very large number of people at the same time, as much as can access that particular node of the internet. Chatbots can be integrated into a vast array of platforms and devices, not limited to the web or mobile apps, but also in other digital devices like audio devices, such as is implemented in the Amazon Alexa. Even physical robots own their audibility and communication to their integrated chatbot software.

Like Amazon’s Alexa which was first launched in 2014 on the Amazon Echo, these software robots can be integrated into hardware systems to collect information from a tangible environment and to respond through that tangible environment, rather than having information dissemination only online, mostly through texts. This way, it becomes apparent how physical robots get their conversational intelligence.

In contrast to the mechanical implementation of the chatbot technology, most chatbots are based on the internet, interacting with people only at a particular portal to which they are deployed on the internet, though some chatbots have secondary functions of crawling the web into other portals and extracting useful data.

This discourse may become verbose if we were to continue contemplating the potentials and advantages of chatbots. Therefore, I will precisely highlight how this technology is built. Of course, knowing how it goes is more important than just keeping some couple of facts about chatbots. To this end, if you are an entrepreneur or a business enthusiast, you sure must have started wondering how you could employ this technology to sail your business aloft if you have not already started using it.

Much more like there are different programming languages with different lines of codes to write the same function, there are also a lot of artificial intelligence frameworks that can be used to build chatbots, although it all roots to traditional programming which can also be used. One advantage many people find using a framework rather than programming the whole thing is because the task could be very complex for a lot of programmers, and also impossible for the remaining people who don’t even know how to code nor have any idea about programming. Most frameworks don’t require any coding skill, the developer (you) will only have to learn about their environment and how their tools work. The most common chatbot development frameworks are Dialogflow (affiliated with the popular Google Assistant), Microsoft Bot Framework,, Pandorabots (used to build Mitsuku) — Mitsuku is the current winner of the Loebner Prize, an annual competition in artificial intelligence that awards prizes to the most human-like chatbot. Other frameworks are Snatchbot (a rather simple and decorative framework), Intercomm, Chatfuel (for building Facebook Messenger bots), Picky Assist (a simple messaging automation framework primarily integrated to WhatsApp), etc. No coding skills are required to start building chatbots with most of these frameworks, however, one would need to dedicate some time to learn how a particular framework works, and of course, there might be paid plans for premium access, but all of the frameworks are pretty much free at the basic level.

For the determined and critically practical people who always like to get to the root of things, who would rather build their chatbots totally independent of any third party platform or framework but would employ the scratch codes of programming languages; although it is quite more complex and difficult, an ingenious programmer could make a much more fantastic chatbot with fresh lines of code which were packaged and prepared by frameworks. The advantage of this is the absolute ownership and independence of the programmer to define the features of the chatbot if they could. For this method, the prevalent programming language, as in artificial intelligence generally, is Python. Others that could be used, but not commonly used nor as effective include Clojure and PHP. The disadvantage, however, is the difficulty in accessing third-party API and add-ons, apart from the other difficulty of deploying the chatbot to popular channels. So, frameworks also make it easy to get your chatbot across multiple channels, including websites and social media.

The future of chatbot technology is already becoming apparent as it has been one of the most outstanding applications of artificial intelligence that the present world has seen so far. In the greater future, even as it is becoming now, chatbots will be all over the internet crawling web pages one after the other and providing real-time information reports to their owners. All questions otherwise asked from search engines or searched from books and files will be answered immediately owners talk to their devices (chatbots). Of course, do we not already see this reality? The Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa among Internet of Things (IoT) explorers can manipulate other digital devices indoors and outdoors when users ask them. The Apple Siri can turn music on and off among the controls it is granted in the phone. Businesses which do not have this technology in its optimum will lose a lot of money hiring humans to attend to customers online, teach their staff basic stuff, fetch information from the database, or even market their products after when they will as well lack productivity as compared to the more digitally strategic companies. It is not too late to start if you have not started already.

Peter Michael,
University of Lagos, Nigeria.

SGC GI: 048 — Robotics/IoT/AI


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How to Acquire Customers on WhatsApp





This is PART THREE of our series on WhatsApp Commerce. Read PART ONE and PART TWO.

So your brand is now set up on WhatsApp Enterprise. Congratulations! You now have the power to reach out to potentially 2 billion people across the globe. You can offer your customer a seamless conversational experience, offer 24/7 support, and promote and sell your products.

But before you can get started with any of that, it’s important to first answer the crucial question — How do you start acquiring customers on WhatsApp?

A key point to note is that WhatsApp requires a brand to get an opt-in from a user before it can start engaging with him/her i.e. the user needs to consent to starting a conversation with your business.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the techniques you can use to begin your brand’s conversations with customers on the world’s largest messaging channel.

WhatsApp offers a Click to Chat feature, wherein a customer can simply click on a deep link on your website and immediately start a conversation with your brand.

The link needs to be easily discoverable on your website. As seen above, once the website visitor clicks on the link, a WhatsApp panel opens up, and a predefined message (usually “Hi” or “Hello”) is sent to the business. You can now start interacting with the user on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp’s Click to Chat feature makes referral marketing a lot simpler. Typically, referral marketing on a mobile app requires a user to copy the referral code/offer from the app, and send it to their friends and family on a WhatsApp group. To avail of the offer, the other user would need to download the app (if they don’t already have it), go through the process of installing it and setting up an account, and only after all this is done can they start interacting with the brand.

If your brand is on WhatsApp however, all you need to do is encourage your customers to circulate a Click to Chat link among their WhatsApp Groups. Interested users simply need to click on the link to immediately start interacting with your brand and availing of the offers that you are promoting. Essentially, WhatsApp simplifies the process of community marketing to a single click!

Another great way to use your website to acquire customers is by getting them to opt-in through banners.

As pictured above, you can include banners on your website with offers, updates and new releases. The banner needs to provide your website visitors with context on why they should engage with you on WhatsApp.

If your banner content appeals to your users, or is relevant to them, they will ‘opt-in’ by clicking on the banner, thus allowing your business to start interacting with them over WhatsApp.

A fairly simple way to get an opt-in from a customer is through a contact form on your website. As pictured above, you can include an option on the form, asking for the user’s permission to start interacting with them on WhatsApp.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) is an automated telephony system that interacts with callers through the use of voice and keypad ‘touch-tones’. An IVR system gives a customer prompts to navigate through what is essentially a telephonic menu (“For X, Press 1, for Y, Press 2”), and based on their input, direct them to the relevant customer care representative.

IVR is a very expensive medium for customer support, with a high cost per call for handling a query with human support agents. It also does not offer a good user experience, with long wait times and a lot of difficulties navigating the system.

However, you can significantly reduce your support costs, and enhance your customer experience, by deflecting IVR calls to WhatsApp. This can be done simply by including an option in the IVR message which says “Would you like to continue this conversation over WhatsApp?”. If the user accepts this conversation, the conversation is seamlessly transferred to WhatsApp, where resolving the customer query will cost a fraction of what it would over call.

There are just a few of the many ways to get customers to your brand’s WhatsApp channel. E-mail signatures, online brochures, outdoor advertising, social media pages — there are a wide range of mediums for brands to place a link that will allow customers and prospects to begin conversations with them over WhatsApp.

With WhatsApp, an engaging and fruitful chat with your customers is literally always just a click away!

To learn more about how your business can leverage WhatsApp as a commerce platform, check out our on-demand webinar on WhatsApp Commerce for Brands: Watch it Now


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