Tuesday, February 25, 2020
The forum in latest edition of The Business of Government magazine focuses on the use of AI in government and its implications.

The use of artificial and augmented intelligence (AI) in government is expanding as the application of these tools and techniques continue to evolve. Governments are embracing AI for mission critical services that include identifying insider threats, supporting military deployment planning and scheduling, and answering routine questions about services. Agencies are considering additional uses that range from checking compliance with tax laws and regulations to assessing the accessibility of government products and websites.

The term artificial intelligence refers to machines and software able to perform tasks we typically associate with humans, such as recognizing speech or images, predicting events based on past information, or making decisions. Machine learning, another commonly used term, is a subset of AI that uses large amounts of data and information to continually improve how a system performs a task. While AI has a long history, it has begun to deliver real results, particularly with the recent rapid progress in machine learning and the increased availability of data and computing power.

The advent of AI has moved rapidly in government. In May 2017, Congress established the bipartisan Congressional Artificial Intelligence Caucus, and members have since introduced numerous pieces of AI legislation. In February 2019, the administration launched the American AI Initiative through executive order, and the U.S. Department of Defense also released its own strategy on how to incorporate AI into national security. As agency use of AI evolves, the federal government is leading a comprehensive initiative to maximize AI’s benefits, while laying the groundwork for agencies to address risks responsibly. To increase the trust the public and federal employees have in government’s use of AI tools, the government’s strategy deals with transparency, security, technological know-how, procurement, budgeting, and risk management.

Over the last two years, the IBM Center for The Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service have collaborated on research focusing on the use of AI in government and its implications. The finding and insights from this joint effort culminated in the release of three distinct yet complementary reports:

The Future Has Begun: Using Artificial Intelligence to Transform Government. This report offers four cases of organizations that have used AI. It distills findings from over a dozen interviews with thought leaders who are applying AI in government and demonstrates that government can use AI to solve real issues and meet their missions.This forum contribution provides a synopsis of two of the four cases outlined in the full report. The people interviewed in the drafting of The Future Has Begun report shared several insights for government leaders seeking to use AI. Most of their ideas focused on the transformation their organizations went through when starting to use AI:


  • Not every task should be augmented by artificial intelligence. Agencies and project teams should first discuss what role artificial intelligence could play in their work, what tasks AI could make easier, and what outcomes they expect AI to help them achieve. AI is not a silver bullet, and it is not appropriate for every challenge.
  • Do not underestimate the upfront investment needed. Once agencies and project teams identify areas where AI can help them achieve their missions, they need to consider the resources they will need, including experts with knowledge of AI systems and how to use them, and budgets to support implementation of the technology. Agencies should also consider how much staff time will be necessary to get an AI system up and running, especially in cases where employees must upload a trove of data and information.
  • Start small. Artificial intelligence, like most new technologies, is best tested on a small scale before it is deployed fully. Using a pilot program enables people to get familiar and comfortable with the technology and catch errors and correct course. And it enables the system to improve.
  • It is always about the data. AI is data hungry. One of the most common challenges with using AI is data access, availability, and quality. The more and better quality the data, the better its performance and accuracy. However, most government data and information is contained in separate agencies and, in many cases, the data is limited. All agencies should ensure quality data and information are available for training, testing, using, and refining AI systems.
  • Agency expertise in artificial intelligence could boost AI’s potential. Agencies will need a robust federal AI workforce to manage the growth and potential of these technology systems. These experts could serve as the repository of AI knowledge for agency program and could work directly on projects when teams lack AI expertise. However, agencies likely will encounter challenges with attracting AI experts, as they have with cybersecurity experts. Therefore, they should prepare for a probable shortage of AI talent in government and look for ways to work with AI experts in the private sector and academia.
  • Government could work with outside experts, particularly at colleges and universities. Colleges and universities have a tremendous amount of artificial intelligence expertise and ongoing research and development programs and projects, and some have designated AI departments. Agencies could conceivably realize an added benefit if, while working with AI departments, public service piques the interest of college and university students and researchers who could take their skills to the public sector.

More Than Meets AI: Assessing the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Work of Government. This report addresses how government can best harness AI’s potential to transform public sector operations, services, and the skill sets of employees. It draws on insights from a series of roundtables with government leaders and focuses on three areas: AI impact on a transformed workday, the potential for personalized customer service, and the increased importance of technical and data skills. 
  • Agency political leaders and senior executives will have to manage change if artificial intelligence transforms the federal workday as foreseen.
  • As artificial intelligence enables employees to focus more on the customer, federal agencies should help their employees improve their customer service skills.
  • As artificial intelligence becomes more ubiquitous in federal workplaces, the federal government should emphasize expertise in technical, digital, and data skills.

The federal government, one of the world’s largest employers, is bound to face disruption from AI. As leaders incorporate the technology into their agencies, they will have to oversee employees who will face myriad changes in their work lives. At the same time, federal employees will play a crucial role for other sectors adopting AI, whether by writing regulations on self-driving cars or ensuring malicious actors are not exploiting AI-powered algorithms. This essential role underscores the need for government to become a responsible user and customer of the technology, address ethics and transparency in AI implementation, and translate its experience with AI into guidance for other sectors. Every part of our government, from federal agencies to the White House to Congress, plays a role in ensuring this transition to an AI-augmented federal workplace is as smooth as possible and that federal employees have the skills to thrive.

More Than Meets AI, Part II: Building Trust, Managing Risk. This report discusses further steps agencies can take to manage risks. While taking advantage of the  many anticipated benefits of AI, agencies must also manage real and perceived risks associated with AI to build trust in the technology. As agencies integrate AI into their work, they will have to pay attention to issues ranging from the ethical to the practical. Top challenges include
  • Bias
  • Security
  • Transparency
  • Employee knowledge about AI technology, and
  • Federal budget and procurement processes.

The final contribution in this forum, Agile and Inquisitive—AI Leadership, explores two leadership qualities essential for meeting the demands and challenges of a continuously evolving technological landscape. With the promise of artificial intelligence no longer in some far-off future, government leaders must comprehend and harness both its perils and possibilities and doing that effectively will require these leaders to be agile and inquisitive.

This forum highlights the insights, findings, and recommendations derived from the IBM Center and Partnership roundtables and reports. Several of the contributions in this forum are edited excerpts of the reports referenced above. It is our aim to spark a conversation on the use of AI, help prepare federal leaders to assess the inevitable changes coming, and rnment leaders with insights on how to navigate this transformative time.




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