E-governmentFrom apoliticalGovernmentTechnology
September 5, 2019

Government and Artificial Intelligence: From hype to strategy

That hypnotically red eye. That eerily meticulous, methodical, and measured voice.

For decades, HAL 9000, the sentient computer and antagonist extraordinaire in Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odysseyor the gun-wielding, cyborg assassin the Terminator, have become pop culture’s shorthand for Artificial Intelligence (AI), in all its potential and potential malfeasance.

Perhaps because these kinds of depictions of AI are so dominant, this technology maintains an aura of intrigue. People continue to treat it with suspicion.

Yet, real-world usages of AI are increasingly present in our lives. Do you ever check a map to help you avoid traffic while you’re driving? Found your new favourite jam based on a Spotify recommendation? Felt thankful for a tidier inbox because the email client filtered the spam? Said “YES” or “NO” very loudly into your phone so the speech recognition can pick you up? AI technology is underpinning the most everyday of habits and actions.

It is time to build more substantive and nuanced understandings of what this technology is and what it is capable of doing. In the public sector, the potential exists for AI to have a positive impact on governments and ultimately on citizens’ lives.

As with many promising technologies, there is a lot of hype. If we don’t see AI as some kind of threat to humanity then we often reduced to a magical “black box”: simply input some data and it will spit out something innovative. With so many (mis)characterisations AI can seem either like a technology in search of a problem or a technological cure-all.

AI influences government and government influences AI

Fundamentally, AI technology can influence what government does and how it operates.

As a regulator, developer of policy or provider of public services and goods, government is not just a mere user of this technology. It can participate in the development of AI by implementing regulations that protect citizens while encouraging the creative use of technology. It can invest in AI research, sponsoring experimentation and pilot projects. It can foster collaboration with the private sector and with citizens to co-create solutions and drive demand for AI.

As much as we should always push the boundaries, AI technology should always be designed in ways that respects human rights, democratic values and diversity

The multiple (and potentially) simultaneous roles government can play in relation to AI must be played strategically and with purpose. AI initiatives have the potential to be completely paradigm shifting and risky, government should have a considered AI management strategy. Around the world, at least 38 countries plus the European Union have developed/ developing, a national AI strategy to establish a strategic vision and approach to AI and to align the capacities, norms and structures of the relevant actors and ecosystems.

Here at the OECD Observatory of Public Sector Innovation, we’ve reviewed these strategies to understand what elements make for good ones. From this research, we can say that robust strategies are:

1. Systems focused  

AI strategies may be most useful when they are holistic and systems focused.

These strategies encompass all the various level of government and are attuned to structures and systems within the public sector that AI can influence or are trialled within. They are also considerate of the interactions of other sectors and stakeholders.

Government would be wise to consider what sort of cross-government and cross-sector councils, networks or communities could best support the diffusion of information and practices related to AI and develop the kind of guiding principles for the entire system that offer clear directions without stifling flexibility and experimentation.

For example, the UK Government’s AI Council and Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation is an independent expert committee developed to advise on how to stimulate the adoption of AI, promote its ethical use and maximise its contribution to economic growth. It consists of leaders from business, academia and civil society to foster cross-sectoral collaboration within the AI community.

2. Trustworthy and fair

Government needs to develop a trustworthy fair, and accountable approach to using AI and must keep a steady hand on the legal and ethical frameworks surrounding the development and use of this technology, always ensuring that they keep pace with its evolution.

As much as we should always push the boundaries in this emerging area of research and practice, AI technology and AI systems should always be designed in ways that respects human rights, democratic values and diversity. Government plays an important safeguarding role to ensure that there is still scope for human (and humane) intervention in AI systems, so fair and just outcomes for society can be maintained.

3. Data-enabled and secure

Data is an asset that needs to be managed well through its lifecycle. Secure ethical access to, and use of, quality data, means that people’s privacy and security are protected and bias is mitigated.

4. Flexible with talent 

Government should build internal capability and capacity so that public servants can procure, use, manage and evaluate AI initiatives.

AI could very well assume functions that people historically performed. However, its purpose is not to replace human endeavour, rather it is to enhance, accelerate or augment it. In addition to bolstering internal capacity with AI, government needs to consider how it works with external actors or partners, such as the private sector, in order the balance the strengths of each to achieve public missions.

How to manage AI

Combining all these elements is no small feat.

Government should continually revisit and rework their strategy as the technology evolves. For government to innovate using AI, a portfolio approach may prove useful. Government may use different strategies for managing AI based on the innovation facet considered or also use AI to drive innovation in each facet.

  • Enhancement-oriented: Government may look to improve existing processes and make them more efficient by using AI. For instance, do the same things faster or do the same using fewer resources.
  • Mission-oriented: Developing AI in itself may be seen as a top priority for government. Alternatively, its development could be seen as a step towards achieving greater objectives such as economic growth or a shift towards more personalised public services.
  • Adaptive: Government may feel the need to invest in the development of AI in reaction to other governments doing so or compelled by its adoption by businesses and citizens. On the other hand, public sector organisations could also leverage predictive AI to better adapt to changing situations.
  • Anticipatory: Thinking ahead, anticipating the potential long-term developments of AI could help government prepare more adequate responses to mitigate risks and maximise benefits. At the same time, AI could be developed to deal with situations of high uncertainty.

Contribute to the AI primer

We want public servants and their partners in industry and civil society to build their knowledge of this rapidly evolving, emergent technology. That’s why we have developed an AI primer “Hello, World: Artificial Intelligence and its Use in the Public Sector” .

“Hello, World!” is often the very first computer program written by someone learning how to code, and we want this primer to be able to help public officials take their first steps in exploring AI. The primer aims to help governments understand the definitions and context for AI, some technical underpinnings and approaches, explore how governments and their partners are developing strategies for and using AI for public good, and understand what implications public leaders and civil servants need to consider.

The primer covers major development in this field of research and practice and offers many real-life case studies from public sectors around the world.

You can provide comment in our public consultation here until 15 September 2019.

Let’s get beyond images of scary robots and cyborgs, provocative as they are, and start building some practical knowledge for how government should understand, plan for, manage and leverage AI for people and the public good. 

This piece originally appeared on Apolitical, the global network for public servants. You can find the original here.

About this author

Avatar

Rebecca Santos and Kévin Kok Héang

This opinion article was written by Rebecca Santos, OPSI Advisor with Kévin Kok Héang, OPSI Consultant.

0 comments

There are no comments for this post yet.

Be the first to comment. Click here.

E-government
 
That hypnotically red eye. That eerily meticulous, methodical, and measured voice....
 
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the Government needs to move...
 
In the show today, J. Richard Jones talks with Dean McKeown,...
 
In the private sector, the cloud is now the new normal...
 
Thanks to the development of new technologies that make previously unimaginable...
 
Governments around the world are increasingly relying on cloud-based IT services...
 
The digitalisation of the economy has been a blessing for the...
 
In June of last year, I returned to my roots. After...
 
Personalized services and accessibility – Canadian citizens want more digital services...
 
Summary and Recommendations Labour markets in Canada and around the world...
 
On October 22, 2018, elections were held in Ontario’s 400+ municipalities....
 
There’s no doubt that digital transformation is a crucial topic, not...
 
In this episode, J. Richard Jones talks with Jason Hermitage, Vice...
 
The discussion around where technology is going in government tends to...
 
Service delivery is an integral part of the work of governments...
 
Leadership, service delivery, change management, performance measurement, big data, transparency, digital...
 
As the labour market shifts from full-time work toward short-term and...
 
What are the key initiatives to support government innovation and change?...
 
In the past 18 months or so, new governments have taken...
 
Disruption, for the most part, always used to be seen as...
 
We are excited to announce that the February/March 2019 issue of...
 
In this episode of CGE Radio, J. Richard Jones talks with...
 
In recent years there has been much hype surrounding blockchain technologies...
 
February 20, 2019, Aurora, ON – Canadian Government Executive Media (CGE)...
 
Wouldn’t we all love to work in an open, transparent and...
 
Imagine your favorite world class service provider replacing the Board of...
 
If your Deputy Minister asked you to identify a dozen communities...
 
People already know the world is digital and that the best...
 
In my previous post about Nesta’s  Digital Frontrunners , I introduced four challenges ...
 
While most of my focus here is on IT and digitization...
 
In federal systems like Canada’s – where power, authority, and responsibility...
 
We have been hearing quite a lot about superclusters. The Government...
 
A look back to the start of 2018 to see some...
 
My observation is people often take the view, “no one else...
 
Canadian Government Executive is pleased to announce its latest podcast –...
 
It is time to reboot democracy. This year, the French constitution,...
 
One of the benefits of living in a federation is that...
 
Public sector organizations are embracing digital transformation, and we’re currently seeing...
 
Urban officials dream of a future of “smart cities” that use...
 
A decade ago as a Presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama was asked...
 
Automated software applications (“bots”) have been weaponized to unduly sway public...
 
Governments everywhere are announcing new strategies for artificial intelligence. From France, which has...
 
The US and other Western governments are sinking more money into...
 
A single team or lab could never create the volume of...
 
I was hosting a meeting recently when I received an urgent...
 
Citizens are embracing technology as it rapidly changes. The experience that...
 
Cultivating more intelligent government has long been a hallmark of public...
 
Innovation labs and units have become so fashionable in the public...
 
Today’s global and local environments require public servants at all levels...
 
Welcome to the era of Smart Cities where connectivity will drive...
 
As the world grows more digital – and increasingly mobile –...
 
Federal efforts to increase the use of data to inform and...
 
Transforming the way services are provided by governments to match the...
 
Earlier this year the Canadian government took a crucial step by...
 
According to a recent McKinsey study there is a potential for...
 
The use of digital services in the day-to-day lives of most...
 
In this episode, J. Richard Jones, publisher of Canadian Government Executive...
 
The January/February 2018 issue of Canadian Government Executive is on the...
 
This year is proving to be an interesting one for all...
 
Recently, George Ross, Editor-in-Chief of Candian Government Executive sat down with...
 
For over two days at the end of January this year,...
 
Today on CGE Radio, we speak with Craig Szelestowski, President and...
 
Today, many connect with their banks, private companies, and friends in...
 
Canadian Government Executive is honoured to have Michael Wernick, Clerk of...
 
For many years now, the buzz in government has been around...
 
It’s that time of year when some of us think reluctantly...
 
In this episode, CGE radio show host J. Richard Jones speaks...
 
The adoption of new technologies provides many opportunities, poses unique challenges...
 
We are excited to announce that the October issue of Canadian...
 
Earlier this month I had the privilege of testifying as an...
 
Canadian Government Executive Media, (CGE) publisher of Canadian Government Executive magazine...
 
Public sector managers from all levels of government across Canada increasingly...
 
Does your organization have a very narrow view of what digital...
 
With businesses and government agencies increasingly operating in a highly information-based...
 
Blockchain. There’s probably no other technology trend in recent years that...
 
Over the last two years, an ever-growing number of organizations around...
 
Canadian Government Executive is excited to announce the agenda for TechGov...
 
Canadian Government Executive media through its upcoming TechGov event is providing the...
 
In a rather unusual, quiet manner this past summer, a new...
 
What would it mean for tax professionals to boost their tax...
 
We are pleased to provide you with an opportunity to help...
 
Canadian government agencies and departments are modernizing the way they do...
 
In this episode, Editor-in-Chief of CGE, George Ross talks with Sir...
 
In this episode, J. Richard Jones talks about the appointment of...
 
In the wake of the WannaCry outbreak, corporate executives, IT professionals,...
 
Facebook Pages can be an essential tool for businesses and charities,...
 
July 27 was pay day some federal public workers that finally...
 
A recent report suggests several strategies how governments and the private...
 
The Phoenix payroll systems long-running technical glitches which have plagued public...
 
Governments around the world are seeking to tap technologies such as...
 
The government is spending $3.5 million to improve an existing immunization...
 
The adoption last year by the Canada Border Services Agency of...
 
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) yesterday heard from several...
 
It appears it was not just the Mounties that were affected...
 
Shared Services Canada appears to be in trouble again – this...
 
Growing public expectations on the speed at which they can received...
 
Nearly half of Canadian organizations are falling behind on implementation of...
 
The facility of a top-secret military communications group in Borden, Ontario...
 
As Canadians prepare to fill up their tax forms this year...
 
There is no shortage of examples of businesses that effectively used...
 
The latest Auditor General’s report on Shared Services Canada (SSC) and...
 
In 2011, the World Economic Forum presented its vision of a...
 
By: Patrice Dutil The MindLab meets every expectation you might have...
 
By Gregory Richards A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute suggests...
 
Some title Some author
Some excerpt
That hypnotically red eye. That eerily meticulous, methodical, and measured voice....