Why Government Leaders Are Turning to AI


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Artificial Intelligence has empowered government employees to deliver on the mission. Today, agency IT leaders are turning to AI to extract data from growing mounds of records, address higher demands on social services and rethink outdated tools and processes for scale.

Since its inception, artificial intelligence (AI) has been feared, revered and widely misunderstood.

Over the course of the last two years, leaders have seen the practical applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) come to life. And as these technologies become more widely accessible, they’re helping solve some of the public sector’s most pressing challenges. 

AI Helps Agencies Push the Limits of Legacy IT and Workforce

“What I’ve seen over the past two-plus years is that agency leaders have really seen the limits of their legacy IT stacks and workforce,” says Chris Hein, director of customer engineering at Google Cloud public sector. “AI has gone from being something somewhat sci-fi to something quite real and tangible.”

Today, agency IT leaders use AI to extract data from growing mounds of records, address higher demands on social services and rethink outdated tools and processes that have become increasingly expensive to maintain. 

For example, Google Cloud’s AI solutions are helping U.S. Navy technicians predict maintenance on warships and enabling city leaders in the city of Memphis to rank potholes in a repair queue. It’s providing decision-makers at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with parsed information needed for the examination process, reviewing and granting applications. Some organizations are even using Google AI to target climate change and social equity. 

AI has been around for decades, but the use of this technology increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. As employees began working from home in droves, technology became a necessity to complete basic job functions. Instead of having to get faxed paperwork and then manually enter it into a system, government workers were able to see a scanned copy that had been inputted using Document AI and the worker just needed to verify accuracy. 

AI Makes Constituent Interactions Faster and More Intuitive

But it’s not only employees who rely on AI to do their jobs effectively; citizens are also pushing for faster and more intuitive interactions with their government — and AI can help make that possible. 

“Political leaders are facing the pressure from their constituents who are saying, ‘If I can get my Amazon packages delivered as quickly as I can, how come I can’t get unemployment assistance without filling out 60 pages of forms?’” Hein says. “Or how come a consumer can enter Home Depot and use technology to navigate exactly what aisle and bin a screw are in but not be able to locate a form for a fishing license?”

Leaders are Investing in Solutions for Today, Tomorrow and the Future.

Public servants are also asking whether high-volume, low-skill tasks are the best use of their time and resources, says Alexis Bonnell, emerging technology evangelist for Public Sector at Google Cloud. As they consider how to invest their collective billions of technology dollars responsibly, leaders are looking toward the idea of what Bonnell refers to as “living systems.”

"Living systems are really the idea of moving away as leaders from creating and investing in solutions that reflect this moment in time to creating solutions that can address this moment in time but that can adapt to tomorrow’s moment and the moment of a year from now,” she explains. Living systems are characterized by an investment in people, a lack of vendor lock-ins and the prioritization of tech stacks that are interoperable. Visionary living systems leaders don’t just ask how technology can improve their current process – they rethink the process itself.

As a former government leader herself, Bonnell is passionate about bringing cloud and cloud-enabled tools like AI and ML to the government as a way to empower public servants to do their best work.

“At Google, we know their No.1 job is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Bonnell adds. “You can’t do that without the right information to make decisions.”

Google understands that they have an important job as well, which is why they put the responsible use of AI front and center. The company takes ethics issues very seriously, Hein says, adding that Google has made large investments in being intentional about ethics and publishing its stance on responsible AI. 

“We want to be the best at the AI side of it, but also making sure that it is used for good purposes,” Hein says. 

AI Empowers Public Servants in 4 Key Categories 

As government leaders look to embed AI into their operations, Hein and Bonnell note four general use categories they should be aware of. 

  • Classification: Reading an image quickly and accurately. For example, the ability to differentiate between a driver’s license and a passport.
  • Generation: The ability to create similar information – such as matching drone imagery against other images to understand where maintenance might be needed on a ship.
  • Prediction: The ability to unlock historical information trapped in papers and documents to understand what’s happening over time.

The data doesn’t need to be perfect for AI to work, however, and algorithms and AI parsers already exist for many of the basic tasks governments are doing today. Moreover, the need for AI isn’t going away. Bonnell describes it as “inevitable” as data becomes increasingly critical to government service delivery. 

“The rate of the scale of information, the rate of decision and change that they’re going to have to navigate, they won’t be able to do it effectively without tools that can help them process that information and help them make the best decisions,” Bonnell says. “This is not science fiction territory. This is now easier than you think.”

This content is made possible by our sponsor, Google Cloud. The editorial staff of NextGov was not involved in its preparation.

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