Connecting state and local government leaders
Governments should help build a talent pipeline for artificial intelligence jobs, one expert advises.
Government leaders should not fear artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, but they should lay the groundwork to prepare for their wider use, a leading academic said at a Route Fifty event this week.
Public and private sector leaders tend to fall into one of two camps when they think about the AI-enabled future, said Yelena Yesha, the Knight Foundation Endowed Chair of Data Science and AI at the University of Miami’s Institute for Data Science and Computing. Some feel AI will solve all society’s problems, she said, while others fear its potential to cause harm and worry it will negatively impact the world.
Instead, Yesha, who has worked for decades in federal agencies including NASA and the National Science Foundation on topics like e-commerce and how to harness the growth of the internet, said AI technology can empower and augment certain jobs and make them more efficient. But it will not be as Earth-shattering as some people fear.
“I think we have to make sure that we give adequate respect to the technology, but the technology should not be oversold,” Yesha said during the GovExec State and Local Government Tech Summit. “In the case of AI, the people coming to me who are very intelligent people in very high positions, they're thinking it's magic. AI is not magic.”
State and local governments are slowly starting to put in place guidance and guardrails to prepare for the growth of AI. Connecticut passed legislation paving the way for an “AI Bill of Rights” for its residents, while Boston is among the first to implement guidance for its employees on how to use generative AI products like ChatGPT.
Preparing their workers for AI and other emerging technologies is a crucial way that governments can ready themselves for the future, Yesha said, especially as AI will change the nature of some jobs and create new ones. Investment in vocational training could help close the technology skills gap and get people into data science jobs, she said.
“Even in the data science field, you don't need a four-year formal degree to fill the positions there are now,” she said. “You have five or six positions open for every data scientist right now, but some of them are entry level and will require six to nine months of training.”
Leaders in governments at all levels—as well as the private sector—also must work to raise awareness of the types of jobs that are available and “democratize access” to information about them, Yesha said. People sometimes have a mental block that may dissuade them from applying for certain jobs or roles, and it is incumbent on leaders in business as well as government to help change that narrative.
While governments may be most intrigued by the promise of AI, Yesha said that the biggest impact will come from a “convergence of technologies” like blockchain and quantum computing, which when combined could deliver “novel solutions” to the issues local leaders face. “You may come up with the best possible AI algorithm, but it might not be the actual solution for a specific problem,” she said. “We are in a solution-driven economy.”