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Multiple opportunities exist for AI to transform both the quality and cost of government services

August 29, 2018 by Lape Runsewe

Multiple opportunities exist for AI to transform both the quality and cost of government services

The UK government is telling a good story about how we should exploit the AI opportunity as an engine of growth for the economy. The 2017 UK Industrial Strategy white paper identified AI and data as 1 of 4 ‘Grand Challenges’ – in which the UK can lead the world for years to come. After all, we are already home to some of the biggest names in the business such as Deepmind, Swiftkey and Babylon. Kwiziq, Cleo and Mindtrace are also examples of dynamic UK AI start-ups leading the way in areas as diverse as education, personal finance and autonomous vehicles. But what are the opportunities open to the government to transform itself through cognitive technologies?

AI is already operating in government, albeit at low levels

Artificial intelligence already helps run government, with cognitive applications doing everything from reducing backlogs and cutting costs to handling tasks we can’t easily do on our own, such as predicting fraudulent transactions and identifying criminal suspects via facial recognition. Indeed, AI-based technology will in the years ahead fundamentally transform how all public-sector employees get work done—eliminating some jobs, redesigning countless others, and even creating entirely new professions —it’s already changing the nature of many jobs and revolutionizing facets of government operations. So where are the biggest opportunities? They include the following three areas:

  • Shifting human labour to high-value work
    Robotics and cognitive automation allow machines to replicate human actions and judgment, freeing people from manual tasks in order to do work that requires uniquely human abilities. For example, data entry can be automated with automatic handwriting recognition, handle scheduling with planning and optimization algorithms, and use speech recognition, natural language processing, and question-answering technology to provide customer service. 3 common pain points for government organisations can, therefore, be addressed: resource constraints, paperwork burdens, and backlogs.In the US, Agencies such as the Bureau of Labour, are looking at AI to assist staff through taking away tedious, repetitive tasks from employees and save hundreds, even thousands of work hours. Employee time can then be redirected to more important tasks. Similar organisations are looking at AI in speeding the assessment of benefits eligibility, resulting in faster citizen satisfaction and ensuring that incidences of missed or improper payments are reduced. Tax and customs agencies are also looking to AI to identify instances of tax evasion, by the analysis and interpretation of many different unstructured sources of data.

    For legislative guidance too, AI will be hugely beneficial to the government. The ability of AI to navigate mountains of existing legislation, rules, regulations, ordinances and to determine the impact of change in legislation on other parts of government, has increasing relevance in a world where the public demands clear action in complex cases. This ability to analyse unstructured data, in conjunction with prevailing legal frameworks, can have equal applicability in determining if a legal case will stand effective prosecution.

  • Cognitive insights: Giving better predictive capabilities
    Complex patterns—such as insurance market movements or terrorist threat levels—can be hard to spot. Cognitive applications, such as anomaly detection systems that employ neural networks, can understand deep context and identify pertinent patterns in data. In certain cases, depending on their design, some applications can explain to a decision maker why a certain pattern is relevant and important; a few can even decide what to do next in a situation, on their own.In this context, AI will have huge social benefits for breaking down government silos, analysing disparate data sources from different agencies to serve citizens and protect vulnerable populations. Child welfare agencies are starting to use AI to help identify children at risk and to recommend interventions to prevent future abuse. One agency is using the technology to identify substance abusers at risk of arrest and to get people in these at-risk groups into county services before they break the law.

    Also, government agencies with large land estates, along with many private-sector counterparts, are starting to use AI in asset and facilities management to predict failures of critical equipment and maintain them before they fail. For defence and intelligence agencies, too, predictive maintenance can help ensure mission readiness, safety and agility of response.

  • Cognitive engagement: answering citizen queries
    Benefits here would include greater responsiveness on the part of the government (i.e. immediate answers to citizen questions), round the clock 24X7 support for citizens instead of solely ‘office hours’, multi-lingual capability and cost savings.In fact, AI already plays an increasing role in everyday life in citizen engagement – citizens now interact with chatbots as a matter of course. In the public sector, this can be effective in both citizen helpdesks and IT call centres, providing the user with access to insights and expertise derived from the most experienced and knowledgeable employees, and delivering that advice in a way that is easy to understand. In Australia for example, AI is being used in conjunction with an avatar of a real person to enable citizens with physical and cognitive disabilities to access key benefit services.

It’s highly unusual for a business improvement to increase speed, enhance quality, and reduce costs at the same time, but cognitive AI technologies offer that tantalizing possibility to the government.

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