What’s going to happen if robots do everything better than us?

That’s what Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, told the National Governors Association’s summer meeting where he famously suggested that government should consider regulations for artificial intelligence (AI). Certainly, if you’ve watched any sci-fi films, the threat seems pretty real.

Well, the truth is that government has far more to gain from AI than it has to fear. And here’s why.

AI has been around as long as many of us have been in the IT industry. In fact, this year is the twentieth anniversary of Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov. It didn’t quite signal the rise of the machines, however, AI is gaining traction and there’s a lot of excitement about what it can deliver to every section of life.

The reason is twofold: First, there are oceans more data. Analysts tend to agree that the amount of data in the world at least doubles every 24 months. If Artificial Intelligence needs data to learn, it’s getting the mother of all crash courses.

Second, there’s better technology. OpenText™ Magellan and IBM Watson aren’t really rewriting what can be achieved from AI as such, they’re opening up new vistas of what might be. So far, so sci-fi!

There are some amazing use cases appearing in government. One UK agency used AI to automate the process of opening case numbers within its call centres. It estimates that handling errors have been reduced by 40% and processing time by 80% or more.

The Cincinnati Fire Department is using AI enhanced analytics to optimize medical response by recommending whether treatment should be on site or at hospital, based on factors such as type of call, location, traffic patterns and weather.

Amazingly, Southern Nevada Health District is using Twitter to identify restaurants more likely to cause food poisoning  and finding this approach is far more effective than the random inspections it had been using previously.

AI: Government’s golden goose?

These and many other use cases show the huge potential that Artificial Intelligence offers to deliver innovative and cost-effective solutions to government. At a time when budgets are tight, resources are squeezed and the expectations of service users and citizens have never been higher, it can make a real difference.

In my opinion, the real sweet spots for AI, in the short term, will lie in identifying where automating and augmenting processes can lead to better, more effective provision of existing services.

Deloitte sums this up by saying: “It’s highly unusual for a business improvement to increase speed, enhance quality, and reduce costs at the same time, but cognitive technologies (AI) offer that tantalizing possibility”.

The firm has even attempted to put figures against the improvements to government efficiencies from automating mundane and routine tasks, reducing backlogs, accelerating discovery and augmenting decision-making.

At the lower end of the scale – simply automating routine tasks – could free up 266 million US federal government working hours annually, potentially saving $9.6 billion each year. At the higher end – taking all aspects into account – as many as 1.1 billion working hours could be freed each year saving $37 billion. Multiply that by the number of state and local governments as well as governments and government agencies worldwide and the possible impact of AI is clear.

It’s a long road but government’s Artificial Intelligence journey is well under way. While use cases are appearing, the AI journey for most government agencies is very much still at the first step. It may be good to consider how you can bring the technology to provide completely different perspectives and solutions, but I think it’s best to start by looking at how you can improve what you’re already doing.

There are four areas where AI can deliver tangible benefits quickly.

  1. Accelerate discovery – AI is much faster at searching vast amounts of data and locating the sought after. Electronic document discovery locates 95% of documents in a discovery process compared to 50% for humans, and at a fraction of time or cost. Governments, like all other organizations, are struggling with Big Data. There is simply too much information – structure and unstructured, inside and outside the organization – and AI is the only way feasible to shift through all that data, categorize and analyze it.
  2. Automate processes – where a business process is repetitive, driven by simple rules and has a limited number of outcomes, AI can automate the entire process, removing the need for manual intervention. Think of the provision of parking permits or postcode reading machines in sorting offices. The only human input would be supervision and maintenance, which frees staff for higher value activities.
  3. Automate customer service – forget the robots, it’s the chatbots that are coming. Many government agencies have begun to adopt chatbots to deliver frontline customer services. With Natural Language Processing and machine learning, chatbots – like many other elements of AI – become more effective over time. One example is EMMA, the Department of Homeland Security’s virtual assistant that is currently answering almost half a million citizenship questions each month. The more EMMA answers, the smarter she gets.
  4. Augment decision-making  – the real power for AI – what, at OpenText, we call AI enhanced analytics – is its ability to work quickly through vast amounts of data from a wide variety of sources to provide real-time decision support. AI doesn’t replace the knowledge worker, it enhances their ability to conduct their role. For example, many hospitals are beginning to use AI to help physicians create individual treatment plans based on personal data and historical data on the area.

But did Musk have a point?

To be honest, I think Elon Musk overstated his case. Artificial Intelligence isn’t about to take people’s jobs any time soon. The strength is in augmentation that leads to better and more cost-effective decision-making. It’s about automating processes that cost every government agency huge resources to deal with day-to-day administration and growing backlogs. Staff used to running to simply catch up can be re-assigned to much higher value activities.

These are early days for AI in government but the early signs are promising. Cash-strapped government agencies can use the technology to automate inefficient process, tame Big data and improve their decision-making. OpenText Magellan is delivering AI enhanced analytics to improve service delivery today and develop new services tomorrow.

Carol Brock

Carol is the Industry Marketing Strategist for the Public Sector worldwide. An Information Governance Expert by education and training with 20+ years of experience in federal and state government, she is passionate about facilitating digital government to provide electronic services to citizens. With initiatives such as digital first, open data, and smart cities, there is much to talk about.

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