How AI is helping Lake County forest preserves engage with the public

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is using artificial intelligence to enhance the user experience for visitors to its website.

A computer program known as a chatbot that launched Friday simulates conversations with human users through text-based interactions. The intent is to enhance communication and accessibility for all users, including by bridging language barriers.

The new feature can translate into multiple languages, making it more inclusive and accessible to diverse communities, according to the district.

“Chatbot, powered by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence, is designed to enhance the overall user experience and provide valuable information about the preserves, programs and available services,” said Mary Kann, the district’s director of administration.

Using a chatbot originated last year an accessibility option, she added. The service costs $250 a month.

Staff has been training the chatbot to respond to commonly asked questions specific to Lake County forest preserves.

Questions are answered plainly in an easy-to-understand manner with options for more information.

For example, “Do you have bike trails?” is answered ‘yes’ with a web link for locations and maps. “What is the Dunn museum?” describes the facility’s collection of natural and cultural history and its interactive exhibits. Users are then asked if they need more details or are planning a visit.

What’s popular? On its debut weekend, cicadas was one of the most requested topics for chatbot’s assistance, according to the district.

“It seems to have taken off,” Kann said.

Other key chatbot features include: functionalities that adhere to American with Disabilities Act standards ensuring users with disabilities have equal access to information and service; translation allowing users to engage in their preferred language for a more user-friendly experience; real-time assistance answering frequently asked questions; information about events and activities; and guiding website visitors through varied forest preserve offerings, also available when offices are closed.

Angelo Kyle, forest district president says the intent is to make information more accessible and user-friendly.

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