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The true opportunity for AI in Government

The private sector may appear to be leading the charge with artificial intelligence. But, we’re also seeing the public sector using AI in innovative ways and reaping the benefits. 

In fact, AI is already helping re-shape the way government organisations make decisions, and how they serve their citizens.

As Ray Greenwood, AI and Machine Learning Domain Expert with SAS Australia and New Zealand put it: “The key thing to remember about AI is that it’s not like we’ve invented a new technique to solve completely new problems. The problems are still old problems – but we’ve now got better tools to address them.”  

AI: Innovation in the public sector

Within Government we’re seeing an acceleration in the deployment of AI in a wide variety of areas including situational awareness, workforce augmentation, front-line intelligence integration, digital assistants, natural language processing and image recognition. Many agencies have either deployed, or are deploying, at least one of these capabilities. 

There is also a burgeoning exploration of new cutting-edge AI solutions which includes intelligent automation, real-time decision-making, high fidelity data streaming and processing, amongst many others.

So, what are the benefits to using Artificial Intelligence for government organisations? 

Improve decision making

Like with any organisation one of the biggest opportunities for AI in government is its ability help improve both the reliability and quality of its decisions. 

AI solutions can easily automate defined, repeatable tasks, and augment human decision making. An algorithm can more easily and quickly sift through millions of documents and points of data to identify patterns and provide critical insight. 

So, when it comes to policy makers making decisions, they can do so with all the relevant data they need to make a fully informed decision and recommend the correct course of action.

The Ministry of Social Development, for example, uses data to support decision-making related to providing income support, connecting people with employment, or facilitating education and housing services to those in need, and then uses automation to make this process more efficient.[i]  

Learn more about the power of augmented human intelligence.


Improve services and policies

Around the world, and here in New Zealand, we’re also seeing AI tools offer government organisations immense value in citizen engagement and improving operational efficiency. 

In 2015, for example, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services launched a chatbot which answers questions on immigration and directs visitors to the relevant part of the website dependent on their needs. Using Natural Language Processing the chatbot can discern the intent of the query, and either direct them to the right resource or connect them to a customer service representative if required. This not only makes it easier for a potential visitor or migrant to find relevant information, but also frees up customer service representatives and reduces costs in this area. 

Closer to home, algorithms and image recognition technology is being used by the Department of Internal affairs to process passport applications, speed up approvals, and ensure citizens receive efficient service.[ii]

And, we're using machine learning technology to identify kiwi bird calls to aid conservation efforts by the Department of Conservation

AI can also help policy decisions made by the government be more relevant. By automating the collection of information AI is better able to identify problems and gauge public sentiment, and therefore be able to make policy decisions based on the preferences of a specific area or community.

Read our case study on harnessing AI to help DoC save the Kiwi.

But first, build trust 

Yet, despite the advancements in AI technology, people are still more likely to trust decisions made by a person over those made by a machine. Even though we have higher expectations of the quality and accuracy of a decision made by AI.

As the public sector increases its maturity in the use of AI, ethics and privacy continue to be front of mind. As use cases explore complete automation or outsourcing of decision making to machines, trust, auditability and governance of AI systems are becoming increasingly topical discussions. 

Over the next few years we'll see a shift from machines simply providing people with data and analysis to support their decisions, to machines making and actioning those decisions with little human input.

So, an important part of AI adoption in government organisations will be proving to the public that they’re keeping their best interest at heart. Government agencies may want to consider providing a high level of transparency and oversight of where AI is being applied, the data that’s being used, and accountability for the decisions and outcomes that it delivers.

And continuing to have people working alongside AI to check the decisions or recommendations it makes, and be the conduit of that information, will help build trust in the accuracy and validity of these systems.

Like other advancements in technology, AI will transform the way organisations operate. And this is no different for government organisations. As the technology continues to evolve, and public confidence in it rises, now’s the prime opportunity for government organisations to look at how they can implement AI to improve internal processes and deliver better outcomes to New Zealand citizens.

If you’re interested to learn how Artificial Intelligence can be used in your organisation, Get in touch.

[i] https://www.data.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Algorithm-Assessment-Report-Oct-2018.pdf
[ii] https://www.data.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/Algorithm-Assessment-Report-Oct-2018.pdf

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