Bucknell developing new A.I. chatbot for L&IT

Riley King, Contributing Writer

Bucknell L&IT has begun developing an artificial intelligence chatbot that could be available to the Bucknell community as soon as April.

The Bucknellian met with Stephen O’Hara and Juliya Harnood, primary developers of the chat bot, to discuss their project. Mike Ferlazzo who works in Bucknell media relations also joined in on the call. 

Artificial intelligence has been prevalent in the news recently following the release of ChatGPT by the company Open AI. ChatGPT is essentially a website that can answer many questions that it is asked. 

“It’s similar to having a computer perform tasks that a person would perform,” O’Hara said. “A lot of it is around answering questions. A lot of it could be around presenting data in a certain way depending on what information you’re looking to provide some sort of AI application.”

In regards to the chatbot being developed at Bucknell, Harnood was able to describe some of the features that would be available to the Bucknell community. 

“We’re starting small,” Harnood said. “So first, we have a live-chat feature for the library and we want to use this chat bot to take over that.”

She said it will be helpful because the live-chat feature is only available when the librarians are present while the new chat bot would be an available resource to students even when the librarians are away. This would be helpful for students who have questions late at night or over long breaks. 

“We’re thinking that this chat bot could be implemented in different departments on campus such as admissions, academics and maybe even athletics,” Harnood said. “So, what I imagine in the future, we’ll have this chatbot where students can go and ask questions such as, ‘What CAP center event is tonight?’ or ‘What’s the Bison special tonight?’ or ‘What are my grades?’” 

Harnood and O’Hara both explained how AI applications such as ChatGPT or the one being developed at Bucknell learn on their own. That means that with every search or question asked, the program has more information in its system than before. Harnood said if you give the program a question it is not able to answer, someone from L&IT will program that answer in so that the chat bot is able to learn it for the future. 

“Chatbots in higher education are all about getting people information quickly and easily,” O’Hara said.“Instead of having to dig through websites and try to find information, the chatbot has all of that already and can provide the information up front.” 

O’Hara said the chat bot would be available all day and night.

The project is underway and L&IT said the community is excited about it. The team is looking for around a dozen students to help with testing phases of the program. Contact Juliya Harnood at [email protected] if you are interested.

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