AI chatbots do work of civil servants in productivity trial

Article by Paul Seddon: “Documents disclosed to the BBC have shed light on the use of AI-powered chatbot technology within government.

The chatbots have been used to analyse lengthy reports – a job that would normally be done by humans.

The Department for Education, which ran the trial, hopes it could boost productivity across Whitehall.

The PCS civil service union says it does not object to the use of AI – but clear guidelines are needed “so the benefits are shared by workers”.

The latest generation of chatbots, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), can quickly analyse reams of information, including images, to answer questions and summarise long articles.

They are expected to upend working practices across the economy in the coming years, and the government says they will have “significant implications” for the way officials work in future.

The education department ran the eight-week study over the summer under a contract with London-based company, to test how so-called large language models (LLMs) could be used by officials.

The firm’s researchers used its access to a premium version of ChatGPT, the popular chatbot developed by OpenAI, to analyse draft local skills training plans that had been sent to the department to review.

These plans, drawn up by bodies representing local employers, are meant to influence the training offered by local further education colleges.

Results from the pilot are yet to be published, but documents and emails requested by the BBC under Freedom of Information laws offer an insight into the project’s aims.

According to an internal document setting out the reasons for the study, a chatbot would be used to summarise and compare the “main insights and themes” from the training plans.

The results, which were to be compared with summaries produced by civil servants, would test how Civil Service “productivity” might be improved.

It added that language models could analyse long, unstructured documents “where previously the only other option for be for individuals to read through all the reports”.

But the project’s aims went further, with hopes the chatbot could help provide “useful insights” that could help the department’s skills unit “identify future skills needs across the country”…(More)”.