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HumBot Says Hello

HSU chatbot introduced to new students to answer campus questions

This fall, Humboldt State University introduced artificial intelligence chatbot HumBot to provide basic information for new students and transfers.

Director of Communications and Marketing for Enrollment Management Josh Smith led the project over the last two months until its release.

Thus far, HumBot has received more than 1000 questions and comments.

“There is a good chance that those questions may not have been asked if that avenue was not available to them at the time,” Smith said. “We get them at all hours of the day.”

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Alexander Enyedi initially pushed for the development of a chatbot two years ago after hearing about a chatbot at Georgia State University. Pounce, the name for GSU’s chatbot, delivered more than 200,000 answers to incoming freshman within the first few months of its implementation in 2016.

Enyedi, with help from Smith and Associate Professor of Social Work Jen Maguire worked together to create HumBot.

“I’ve been a passionate proponent for the chatbot technology for over two years,” Enyedi said in an email.

HumBot is one chatbot among seven within California State Universities. AdmitHub, an AI chatbot service designed for students, developed all seven chatbots.

HSU created HumBot in the last two months after receiving an $80,000 grant from the Irvine Foundation.

AdmitHub handed over HumBot pre-seeded with answers to the 700 most common questions asked by first-year students. HSU then needed multiple departments to analyze the answers.

“It was started off by everybody just going in there, reading all the questions and answers, and first making sure that it was accurate, and second, trying to make it a little bit more friendly,” Smith said.

HSU staff and summer students then seeded HumBot with an additional 150 questions before it was released this fall. HumBot will continue to learn as students interact with it.

HumBot responds to fisheries transfer student Matthew Howe on Sept. 3. HumBot has answers to over 850 questions so far. | Photo courtesy Matthew Howe

“That is going to be an ongoing, multi-year, get smarter each time kind of thing,” Smith said.

Associate Professor Maguire is conducting research through the bot and Smith said she has been shaping HumBot to address issues specific to HSU. Maguire could not be reached for an interview.

“She is kind of the intellectual arm of the chatbot,” Smith said. “She and her colleagues are seeding the knowledge base of the chatbot with questions that relate to housing insecurity, food insecurity—HumBot is still learning those things, but it is our particular brand.”

Transfer fisheries student Matthew Howe used HumBot to find out where to pick up his mail. Howe admitted to being surprised by how well HumBot worked.

“I thought it worked fairly well,” Howe said. “I was expecting it to not perform at all. I was surprised at how well it did work.”

Howe said he would use HumBot again, although he doubts he would ask it anything personal.

Smith noted that questions sent to HumBot can be viewed by the project staff. HumBot is unlikely to be helpful for personal matters, although with the possibility of endangerment HumBot can notify university police.

Smith hopes HumBot can play an important role in the modernization of HSU’s accessibility.

“I would just encourage students to kind of re-look at those things that maybe they don’t know about or maybe weren’t up to par with a couple years ago,” Smith said.

For now, HumBot is only available to new students, but it is expected to roll out for second and third-year students next fall.

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