How Does the Public Sector Identify Problems It Tries to Solve with AI?

Article by Maia Levy Daniel: “A correct analysis of the implementation of AI in a particular field or process needs to start by identifying if there actually is a problem to be solved. For instance, in the case of job matching, the problem would be related to the levels of unemployment in the country, and presumably addressing imbalances in specific fields. Then, would AI be the best way to address this specific problem? Are there any alternatives? Is there any evidence that shows that AI would be a better tool? Building AI systems is expensive and the funds being used by the public sector come from taxpayers. Are there any alternatives that could be less expensive? 

Moreover, governments must understand from the outset that these systems could involve potential risks for civil and human rights. Thus, it should be justified in detail why the government might be choosing a more expensive or riskier option. A potential guide to follow is the one developed by the UK’s Office for Artificial Intelligence on how to use AI in the public sector. This guide includes a section specifically devoted to how to assess whether AI is the right solution to a problem.

AI is such a buzzword that it has become appealing for governments to use as a solution to any public problem, without even starting to look for available alternatives. Although automation could accelerate decision-making processes, speed should not be prioritized over quality or over human rights protection. As Daniel Susser argues in his recent paper, the speed at which automated decisions are reached has normative implications. By incorporating digital technologies in decision-making processes, temporal norms and values that govern them are impacted, disrupting prior norms, re-calibrating balanced trade-offs, or displacing automation’s costs. As Susser suggests, speed is not necessarily bad; however, “using computational tools to speed up (or slow down) certain decisions is not a ‘neutral’ adjustment without further explanations.” 

So, conducting a thorough diagnosis including the identification of the specific problem to address and the best way to address it is key to protecting citizens’ rights. And this is why transparency must be mandatory. As citizens, we have a right to know how these processes are being conceived and designed, the reasons governments choose to implement technologies, as well as the risks involved.

In addition, maybe a good way to ultimately approach the systemic problem and change the structure of incentives is to stop using the pretentious terms “artificial intelligence”, “AI”, and “machine learning”, as Emily Tucker, the Executive Director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law Center announced the Center would do. As Tucker explained, these terms are confusing for the average person, and the way they are typically employed makes us think it’s a machine rather than human beings making the decisions. By removing marketing terms from the equation and giving more visibility to the humans involved, these technologies may not ultimately seem so exotic…(More)”.