Emerging technologies are making inroads in agencies, and late last year, an event hosted by General Services Administration’s DigitalGov University looked at the multitude of application areas for artificial intelligence and virtual reality in government. But where could technologies like blockchain and AI have the biggest impact? Nextgov’s Camille Tuutti sat down with Bill Eggers, executive director of Deloitte's Center for Government Insights, to explore that question.
This Q&A has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Nextgov: Where do you see blockchain really being implemented first? What areas will be more likely to start using that?
Bill Eggers: Certainly from the state and local perspective, it is clear that things like titling and licensing and a lot of those types of activities will be the first ones that they will use. I think identity is another interesting one, medical records ... If you are looking at some of the big technology issues over the next five years that the administration will be needing to deal with: certainly blockchain will be one, artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies will be another one as those come up, the movement to cloud and the likely acceleration of cloud and software as a service.
Speaking of AI, what type of evolution do you see there?
Eggers: On the automation front, the way I think we are going to see it happen in government is that the first wave is going to be a lot of narrow AI. It is going to be basically process robotics, which is a lot of these things that take a lot of time; report writing, document review, even some of the customer service functions or like the help desks and understanding changing passwords. I think that will be the first thing.
I think we will see a lot of that automated in order to free up more time to focus on the mission and to deal with the backlogs. Over the next three to four years, there will be some sexy stuff but a lot of it will be fairly boring.
Eggers: Yes, we will see robots. I think with the next wave you will see bigger changes because the government is always going to be four to five years behind the private sector in terms of the adoption of any technologies. I don’t think we are going to see a huge amount of jobs lost necessarily. We are going to see a lot of being able to deal with backlogs and being able to improve services and augmentation of humans that is going to occur over the next five to seven years.
There are a whole bunch of companies that are coming out every day with things. We are partnering with a lot of them at Deloitte—like the next-generation Siri. That’s something that we will likely see also in government.
With AI, there are so many different types of cognitive technologies so you have to always look at facial recognition, voice recognition. Are we talking about things like narrative science, which is more around narrative writing, machines writing? There is a deep-learning piece, which is where AI is really learning in a deep way.
That’s going to be where we will start to see some really, really dramatic things—where it’s a little bit more human-like coming forward. I don’t think we will see a huge amount of that in government in the next few years except in probably the military and intel.
We might never hear about that.
Eggers: And then you know there will be a lot of Watson-like uses and kind of from a predictive standpoint and also from an augmentation perspective that we’ll start seeing use cases in a variety of areas. I think the place if you really want to look at robotics, the use of robotics and some of that AI will be in disaster response—places where it is very dangerous for humans to go in. That’s gotten a lot better today.