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Automation Could Boost Federal Productivity—And Save $41B a Year

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Automating simple tasks such as opening emails, collecting social media statistics and conducting repetitive calculations could save the federal government billions of dollars annually, a report shows.

The federal government stands to save a minimum of $3.3 billion and 96.7 federal work hours by creating bots that can free up human workers to do more complex tasks, according to a Deloitte study. Deloitte advises federal customers on how to incorporate bots into organizations.

At the higher end of Deloitte's estimate is that the federal government could save up to 1.2 billion hours and $41.1 billion. Though "large government job losses are unlikely,” automated technology—which might include more advanced forms of artificial intelligence—could leave up to 25 percent of current workers available for other tasks, the report said.

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Some agencies are already starting to take advantage of automation. For instance, the Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Immigration Services uses a natural-language processing virtual assistant named EMMA that processes about 500,000 typed questions a month. DHS incorporates user feedback about how helpful EMMA was to improve the chatbot.

Other agencies might begin by automating tasks involving speech recognition and simple decisions based on the "if/then" framework, the report said. Document searches might be another easily automated task. Deloitte concluded electronic document discovery could identify about 95 percent of relevant documents in a specific case, compared to just 50 percent for human searchers.

Consumers appear to be on board. About 63 percent of consumers and business decision-makers think artificial intelligence could help society, and 59 percent said it might help people live "more fulfilling lives," according to a recent PwC report surveying 2,500 people. On the venture capital side, there have been about 605 venture investments over the last two years, totaling about $5 billion over 605 deals.

About 46 percent think AI would take away jobs, and 23 percent thought automation could have "serious, negative implications.”

In fact, the majority of consumers thought it would be more important to access better services than to preserve those jobs. For instance, about 80 percent of respondents thought it was worth getting better legal advice, even from a bot, than to keep lawyers around. About 66 percent thought the same for transportation professionals and customer service representatives.

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