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Artificial intelligence in government

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been coming out of science fiction and into the real world for some time now. In fact, many forms of AI are active in our society. But how can/does government use and benefit from AI?

Salsa Digital 17 October 2017

The background

We’ve blogged before about some of the big technological innovations and how they could impact Australia and government. Topics like the Internet of Things (IoT), smart cities, big data analytics, and the blockchain revolution. This blog is going to look at another big technological opportunity — artificial intelligence (AI).

It’s been the stuff of science fiction books and movies for some time now, and has also been studied and pursued by academics, corporates and government since the 1950s. In fact, it was 1950 when Alan Turing developed the Turing test, a test that’s designed to distinguish human behaviour and thought processes from artificial intelligence (a computer). Back then scientists and researchers thought they’d have a full working AI system within decades, but the reality has been much slower. The Turing test is still in use, in fact only last year it was reported that an MIT AI passed a key Turing test.

Levels of AI

While we often associate the term AI with a ‘being’, a robot that can pass for human, there are actually many, many steps before that. In fact, the MIT AI isn’t a walking, talking AI…it’s an algorithm that produces sound (and it’s passed the Turing test for sound). This is indicative of the fact that there are many different aspects that come under the broad umbrella of AI.

AI is all around us today. Some examples include:

  • Virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now
  • Video games
  • Driverless cars
  • Marketing and sales prompts (for example Amazon recommendations and Facebook ads)
  • Automated customer chat apps
  • Navigation systems
  • Translation apps
  • Security and counterterrorism (running algorithms to identify security threats)
  • Facial recognition systems

All of these applications use some level of AI.

Benefits for government

In some ways it seems the benefits of AI may be a moot point. At this stage, AI is gaining momentum so quickly it’s an unstoppable force and many see it as an important step for humankind — perhaps like walking on the moon. While our desire to ‘win’ the AI race may be partly driven by our desire and ability to master something that’s been on society’s radar for a while, it’s also driven by some very real benefits.

A recent Deloitte report from the US “conservatively estimates that simply automating tasks that computers already routinely do could free up 96.7 million federal government working hours annually, potentially saving $3.3 billion.” Big numbers!

AI overseas

Many countries and governments are using AI and hoping to build significantly on this technological innovation. In the US, draft legislation is addressing AI and according to a Recode article, AI has the potential to “make the American public sector great again.”

China is also a big player in the AI market. MIT Technology Review said that the Chinese Government is planning to invest tens of billions of dollars into AI.

Not surprisingly, Estonia is also on top of AI. In 2016 they set up a taskforce to look at legislation that needs to be put in place to support and guide AI.

AI in Australia

There’s also a lot happening here in Australia. For example:

What about jobs?

While many people worry about the effect automation may have on the job market, a September Sydney Morning Herald article puts that into perspective too (and with the cool title How to ensure Australia thrives when the robots come). Like many other revolutions and big changes in the workplace, while some jobs will be lost, many new jobs will be created — and other jobs will simply change, as some of the functions become automated.

Salsa Digital’s take

There are many technological advances that have the power to transform our lives — AI is one of them. While it’s been slower going than society first thought back in the 1950s, it is happening. AI is clearly on our radar and an area that government needs to be involved in at many different levels — from policy to adoption. AI will definitely be a key driver in digital transformation in government.

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