Chatbot Enrolls at VCU

Nov 28, 2017

Virginia Commonwealth University is raising a baby chatbot at its da Vinci Center – a place committed to innovation and entrepreneurship. 

VCU's da Vinci Center is training a baby chatbot to text answers to the world's questions.
Credit Virginia Commonwealth University

The story of Little Leonardo, named of course for Leonardo da Vinci, begins in Silicon Valley where a company developed software to help chatbots learn to answer specific questions. The firm asked VCU to test its program, and this semester graduate student Mathew Halpern has overseen the effort.

“It’s a little child itself, so we train it as we go so that it can evolve and become more sophisticated,” he explains.

Ultimately, he says, companies could use Little Leonardo or LL to replace web pages of frequently asked questions.

“There’s a huge amount of information that we can have on the back end of this. You can’t put all of that dense information into an FAQ page and expect people to read it.”

Better yet, LL can respond to millions of messages through text, Facebook or voicemail.

“It allows us to respond to massive numbers of questions all at once, so if there’s a deadline coming up or an event coming up, we can field many more questions than we could through any other resource,” Halpern says.

And LL’s answers will be delivered in style.

“He knows a little bit of Italian.  He is Little Leonardo after all.”

Eventually, Little Leonardo will answer questions about the da Vinci Center and VCU all by himself, but for now a staffer must approve every message that goes out.