Automation Beyond the Physical: AI in the Public Sector

Ben Miller at Government Technology: “…The technology is, by nature, broadly applicable. If a thing involves data — “data” itself being a nebulous word — then it probably has room for AI. AI can help manage the data, analyze it and find patterns that humans might not have thought of. When it comes to big data, or data sets so big that they become difficult for humans to manually interact with, AI leverages the speedy nature of computing to find relationships that might otherwise be proverbial haystack needles.

One early area of government application is in customer service chatbots. As state and local governments started putting information on websites in the past couple of decades, they found that they could use those portals as a means of answering questions that constituents used to have to call an office to ask.

Ideally that results in a cyclical victory: Government offices didn’t have as many calls to answer, so they could devote more time and resources to other functions. And when somebody did call in, their call might be answered faster.

With chatbots, governments are betting they can answer even more of those questions. When he was the chief technology and innovation officer of North Carolina, Eric Ellis oversaw the setup of a system that did just that for IT help desk calls.

Turned out, more than 80 percent of the help desk’s calls were people who wanted to change their passwords. For something like that, where the process is largely the same each time, a bot can speed up the process with a little help from AI. Then, just like with the government Web portal, workers are freed up to respond to the more complicated calls faster….

Others are using AI to recognize and report objects in photographs and videos — guns, waterfowl, cracked concrete, pedestrians, semi-trucks, everything. Others are using AI to help translate between languages dynamically. Some want to use it to analyze the tone of emails. Some are using it to try to keep up with cybersecurity threats even as they morph and evolve. After all, if AI can learn to beat professional poker players, then why can’t it learn how digital black hats operate?

Castro sees another use for the technology, a more introspective one. The problem is this: The government workforce is a lot older than the private sector, and that can make it hard to create culture change. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 27 percent of public-sector workers are millennials, compared with 38 percent in the private sector.

“The traditional view [of government work] is you fill out a lot of forms, there are a lot of boring meetings. There’s a lot of bureaucracy in government,” Castro said. “AI has the opportunity to change a lot of that, things like filling out forms … going to routine meetings and stuff.”

As AI becomes more and more ubiquitous, people who work both inside and with government are coming up with an ever-expanding list of ways to use it. Here’s an inexhaustive list of specific use cases — some of which are already up and running and some of which are still just ideas….(More)”.