The Yukon Human Rights Commission has turned to technology to make it easier for Yukoners who have experienced discrimination but may feel uncomfortable picking up the phone or sending in a fax to report what happened to them.
Harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, a newly-launched chatbot called Spot allows for anyone with an internet connection to discreetly record important details about, and, if they so wish, report an incident to the commission, all without ever having to interact with another human being.
Originally developed as a tool for employees to report workplace harassment to their human resources departments, Spot’s interface resembles something that most people in the digital age are familiar with: online messaging or chat rooms.
When a user opens up Spot, the chatbot starts off by asking the user simple questions about the nature of the discrimination — for example, when and where the incident occurred, who it was perpetrated by, and the statement or actions the perpetrator used. The questions become more detailed the more the user responds, with Spot tailoring subsequent questions based on answers the user has already provided.
At the end, Spot compiles that results of the chat into a professional-looking report that it emails to the user in the form of a pdf. It then gives the user the option to send the report to the Yukon Human Rights Commission, with all information wiped from Spot’s servers when the user closes the window.
The process is secure, private and confidential, Yukon Human Rights Commission’s director Jessica Lott Thompson told media at a Spot demo on April 30, and might make some people more comfortable with documenting and reporting incidents.
“…One of the things that we’ve noticed is that there are a lot of barriers to people getting their story written down and there are a lot of barriers to people being able to clearly gather evidence as soon as possible after something has happened, to be able to generate sort of essentially their own statement,” Lott Thompson said.
“And that’s what Spot does, is it helps people to be able to create a time stamped pdf that records what happened to them in their own words. It empowers people to make their own choices about how they want to record what happened to them. They want to do it at 2 o’clock in the morning on their phone? That’s possible with this bot.”
The collaboration has been about a year in the making, Lott Thompson said, and was sparked when, by chance, she heard about Spot on the radio.
Appearing via video call from London, Spot co-founder Julia Shaw said that while Spot was initially more geared to collect reports about sexual harassment, the version being used by the commission has been tweaked to be able to accommodate more kinds of situations — racial or religious discrimination, for example.
Some of the questions Spot asks have also been re-framed to accommodate for the fact that it will be a member of the public “speaking” to the bot and that the information, if submitted, will be reviewed by the commission, instead of an employee submitting information to a manager.
Shaw, a Canadian psychologist who specializes in interviewing people about highly-emotional events in a neutral and unbiased way as possible, said it was “inspiring” that the commission was trying to improve access to justice, especially for people in remote areas or who cannot speak to the commission during working hours.
“I think it’s a really nice collaboration for us, on our side, to be able to … help, in a really tacky-sounding way, make the world a little better place and help people actually, you know, embrace and use the kinds of access you guys give,” Shaw said.
Lott Thompson emphasized that Spot is not a research, but a reporting tool, and just one of many other ways that someone can reach out to the commission with a complaint — options like visiting or calling the commission during working hours, sending in a fax or email or requesting a staff member to come to you are all still available.
The chatbot’s launch is one of several recent initiatives that the Yukon Human Rights Commissions has undertaken. In March, for example, it took part in launching a free online course called Serving All in Canada, the result of a collaborative effort between human rights commissions across the country.
The course, which is hosted on the website of the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (cashra.ca/classroom) and available in both French and English, is intended to help businesses address and prevent racial profiling of customers.
Spot is available on the Yukon Human Rights Commission’s website at yukonhumanrights.ca
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org