By Alexander Talbott –
Many governments, local and national, around the world, are embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in order to better serve their citizens. AI can reduce waiting times, reduce backlogs, and detect fraud. When used correctly, AI can enhance the abilities of government workers, reducing the amount of time they need to spend on menial tasks and providing them with insights they would not otherwise have. All of this is done so that the government can operate more smoothly for its constituents, and ultimately, save taxpayers money.
Governments can use AI in a variety of ways
Any government, no matter the size, can harness the power of AI. Perhaps the simplest, most obvious use of AI is in automating simple, repetitive tasks. Take for example, processing applications for unemployment benefits. Currently, most governments rely on employees to manually read over every application, determine eligibility, check for fraud, and file the appropriate paperwork to move the application along. This is a labor-intensive process and, as was evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, can leave citizens subject to long waiting times for a critical service. Instead, governments could use AI to shoulder some of the burden. Properly calibrated AI can process applications, determine eligibility, and detect fraud much faster, and often with much higher accuracy, than human workers can.
In addition to routine, everyday tasks, governments can use AI to accomplish work humans cannot. The city of San Diego, California is implementing a smart streetlights project to cut costs on expensive street lighting. The streetlights not only turn off when there is nobody nearby, they collect data on parking/vehicle counts/etc that is fed into a centralized city database and used to improve other city services such as public transportation and pedestrian safety. Additionally, the FBI partnered with Intel to utilize AI and high-powered computing to help find missing children. The software helps sift through the massive amount of tips the FBI receives to find the promising leads. And finally, the US Citizen and Immigrations Services (USCIS) developed Emma ,a virtual assistant chatbot that can answer questions and guide users to the correct area of the USCIS website. Emma is fluent in both English and Spanish. The above examples illustrate how AI can improve government efficiency and save cities money.
The benefits of AI
Despite all the benefits AI brings to the workplace, it is important to not jump to implementing AI without a plan in place. AI should be integrated into existing workflows incrementally, over time. AI is a way to enhance a worker’s capabilities and thus, should not be a distraction. It can expedite certain tasks a worker performs in their day-to-day duties. By focusing on the tasks AI can perform, rather than the jobs, governments can get the most out of their AI investments.
A study done by Deloitte on US federal and state government employees found that government workers spend more time on documenting and recording information than any other task. Additionally, they found government employees typically spend at least 20% of their time on tasks they deem to be unimportant. The report goes on to suggest that AI can be implemented to automate some of these tasks, specifically those that are peripheral or high-volume in nature. Not all tasks can be automated as many still require specialized skills or human inputs. The researchers ran a simulation that showed, with medium investment, federal governments can save nearly 15% of their annual person-labor hours in 5-7 years. That translates to over $21 billion in savings from salaries. By eliminating unimportant tasks from a government workers day, they can spend more time delivering to their citizens.
A government is tasked with serving its citizens in a timely manner, meeting their needs and investing in their future. AI can help governments achieve their full potential. By taking work off of the plate of government workers, AI allows them to focus on more impactful undertakings. AI can also provide assistance in areas where humans cannot. The savings, in time and money, from employing AI are immense. With investments today, governments can work towards building a brighter future for all.
Alex is a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying Public Policy and Data Analytics. He served in the Peace Corps as a Community Economic Development Volunteer and has experience working in information technology.