Giving to charity using your voice – how AI and bots could increase digital giving

AI and bots will give donors a massive boost to their understanding and encourage them to donate even more

Guest Writer | 12th Oct 17
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By Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion, AbilityNet

AI and bots will give donors a massive boost to their understanding and encourage them to donate even more according to the Charities Aid Foundation‘s think-tank.

Almost everyone will have experienced artificial intelligence (AI) on the internet; either when using an automated chatbot linked to a website or via online ads, which use carefully crafted algorithms to target their potential customers.

A recent article, entitled Is AI The Future Of Philanthropy Advice, explored the current and future use of AI by charities to help better deliver services and inform potential donors.

The promise of being able to extend the reach of charities through more meaningful messaging whilst reducing the cost of delivery by offering automated advice and information, makes AI a very attractive project for charities to pursue.

A notable example is Arthritis Research UK, who partnered with Microsoft to pilot an automated chatbot that offered web visitors personalised advice on arthritis. Others are improving real-time language-translation services for refugee and migrant projects or helping predict poaching patterns and supporting conservation efforts.


Using AI to make giving quick and simple

We have had virtual assistants on our smartphones for several years now but the popularity of the Amazon Echo and subsequent similar ‘smartspeakers’ like Google Home has taken everyone by surprise. Consistent best-sellers, they are helping to bring the benefits of AI to the very air in our homes.

The abilities of these virtual assistants are almost inexhaustible. I host a daily podcast on the Amazon Echo in which I demonstrate one or more ‘skills’ (apps built for the smartspeakers). Since the Echo adds several hundred new skills each week, I’m not about to run out of new, entertaining and useful abilities to demonstrate any time soon.

Imagine that the ability to give to a good cause at the very moment you’re moved to do so is as simple as saying to the air around you, “Alexa: give £100 to the Red Cross hurricane relief fund” or, “OK Google: give £5 a month to Comic Relief.”

These devices already have your credit or debit card details. It’s already possible to purchase any number of products from Amazon through your Echo with a single command.

Amazon wants to make buying through the Echo as natural and frictionless as possible – and the same is undoubtedly true of Google and Apple. We’d like all the manufacturers of these virtual assistants to extend that capability to charitable giving too.

So, whilst the ability to use your Echo to donate in a way that is as simple and straightforward as purchasing goods online is not yet built-in, the option of adding a third-party skill that turns the Echo (or Google Home, etc.) into a giving machine for worthy causes certainly is possible today.

High-profile giving sites such as Just Giving or BT My Donate (which takes no commission whatsoever on donations) would be obvious and ideal organisations to create such a skill, but any charitable organisation could create one. Then donations can be made quickly and easily, whenever the generous owner of the smart assistant is moved to do so.


Making smart-giving mobile

It is rumoured that Amazon plans to bring out a pair of smart glasses with Alexa built in by the end of this year. The ambient nature of an ever-listening assistant might make giving that little bit more frictionless. We then wouldn’t even need to take our phones out of our pockets to give to good causes. The act would almost be as natural and seamless as commenting out loud, “I’d like to give to that cause…”.

These smart glasses look relatively normal, avoid the disquiet that head-mounted cameras can evoke, and at the same time, give you all the functionality of the Echo wherever you are.


Adding a safety net to smart giving

But what, I hear you say, about rogue donations made by madly generous family members or a change of heart when you realise that you were moved more than your bank balance can bear? With the Echo, you have half an hour to cancel your order – and of course you wouldn’t have that capability turned on in the first place if you routinely had unpredictable or unscrupulous people around.

In just the same way, it would be easy to build in the ability to change the donation or cancel it altogether within a predefined period.

Adding in a notification sent to the smartphone of the cardholder would also make sure he or she was aware of every donation made through the family’s virtual assistant.


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