ARLINGTON, Va. (DC News Now) — The next time you call for help in Arlington County, you may not be speaking to whom you think.
Starting on June 1, Arlington County’s non-emergency 911 line will be answered by an Amazon-powered artificial intelligence (AI) device.
County officials tout the new program as a “game-changer,” saying that the AI will help with things like noise complaints or towed cars, with hopes that it will free up the actual people answering phones. That way, their abilities will be used for more pressing issues, including violent crime, fires, or medical emergencies.
“[The AI] is going to say, ‘You’ve reached Arlington County Emergency Communication Center, please tell me what you’re calling about today,” said Jake Saur, the county’s ECC administrator.
For the first 30 days, the county will collect data on what types of calls are most frequent, and then it will train the AI how to best help people dealing with those common problems.
“One of the things that we could do is have Amazon text you a link to the online reporting form,” Saur said.
Two people who live in the county, who spoke with DC News Now, said this would be a good idea, but they want to ensure the AI is updated and trained to give the latest, most accurate information.
“The appropriateness [with which the AI responds] could be improved again and again,” Martin Folkuff said. “All the things that come through AI? It’s super exciting.”
Nozomi Koga, who recently moved from Japan, added: “I might be a bit frustrated [if the AI doesn’t answer the question properly], but at the same time… this whole system is to help free up the line for more emergencies. I think I’ll understand.”
Saur said the program could be helpful for other area 911 call centers, some of whom are dealing with staffing shortages and other issues.
“I think that this space is something that’s desperately needed in 911,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised that this catches on pretty quickly.”
Dispelling some concerns people may have, Arlington County shared that none of the personal information shared on these phone calls will be kept by either the county or Amazon.