Artificial Intelligence can streamline public comment for federal agencies

John Davis at the Hill: “…What became immediately clear to me was that — although not impossible to overcome — the lack of consistency and shared best practices across all federal agencies in accepting and reviewing public comments was a serious impediment. The promise of Natural Language Processing and cognitive computing to make the public comment process light years faster and more transparent becomes that much more difficult without a consensus among federal agencies on what type of data is collected – and how.

“There is a whole bunch of work we have to do around getting government to be more customer friendly and making it at least as easy to file your taxes as it is to order a pizza or buy an airline ticket,” President Obama recently said in an interview with WIRED. “Whether it’s encouraging people to vote or dislodging Big Data so that people can use it more easily, or getting their forms processed online more simply — there’s a huge amount of work to drag the federal government and state governments and local governments into the 21st century.”

…expanding the discussion around Artificial Intelligence and regulatory processes to include how the technology should be leveraged to ensure fairness and responsiveness in the very basic processes of rulemaking – in particular public notices and comments. These technologies could also enable us to consider not just public comments formally submitted to an agency, but the entire universe of statements made through social media posts, blogs, chat boards — and conceivably every other electronic channel of public communication.

Obviously, an anonymous comment on the Internet should not carry the same credibility as a formally submitted, personally signed statement, just as sworn testimony in court holds far greater weight than a grapevine rumor. But so much public discussion today occurs on Facebook pages, in Tweets, on news website comment sections, etc. Anonymous speech enjoys explicit protection under the Constitution, based on a justified expectation that certain sincere statements of sentiment might result in unfair retribution from the government.

Should we simply ignore the valuable insights about actual public sentiment on specific issues made possible through the power of Artificial Intelligence, which can ascertain meaning from an otherwise unfathomable ocean of relevant public conversations? With certain qualifications, I believe Artificial Intelligence, or AI, should absolutely be employed in the critical effort to gain insights from public comments – signed or anonymous.

“In the criminal justice system, some of the biggest concerns with Big Data are the lack of data and the lack of quality data,” the NSTC report authors state. “AI needs good data. If the data is incomplete or biased, AI can exacerbate problems of bias.” As a former federal criminal prosecutor and defense attorney, I am well familiar with the absolute necessity to weigh the relative value of various forms of evidence – or in this case, data…(More)