Connecting state and local government leaders
But better training on the emerging technology is needed and should be mandatory, according to a new survey.
State and local governments are already widely experimenting with artificial intelligence. The emerging technology is being used for nearly everything from cybersecurity and infrastructure monitoring to public health and traffic flow analysis to automating workflows and minimizing redundant tasks to customer service and website management.
But these projects in many cases are happening without guidelines and proper training, according to a new survey of IT executives in local government by the Public Technology Institute, which offers IT training to local governments. Eighty-five percent of those surveyed by PTI said they believe they need training to better understand AI, while 51% said training on AI for local government staff in the next two years should be mandatory.
The survey, which was conducted last month, has been released as a number of state and local governments work to issue their own guidelines in the absence of a national AI framework.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro this week became the latest elected leader to sign an executive order to establish responsible standards and a governance framework for generative artificial intelligence use by agencies. Shapiro said the state must “educate ourselves and be proactive to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of innovation.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order of his own earlier this month, following several city-level efforts to establish use guidelines in Boston, San Jose, California, and Seattle, among others.
All of these orders and policies call for training the public workforce in AI. Boston and San Jose are already doing so. And Shapiro’s action in Pennsylvania mandates that the Office of Administration create training materials based on the 10 core values laid out in the order.
Alan Shark, PTI’s executive director said there are several aspects of the technology to consider when training employees: potential bias, ethical use, how contracts might need to be rewritten, how to manage data sharing and how to ensure no personal identifying information is inadvertently fed into the technology.
Additional aspects to consider in training programs, according to Shark, include how to write statements that let users know that decisions have been made with AI systems; how to develop an appeals process for those decisions; guidance on how to deal with AI hallucinations, where the information provided is completely wrong; and how to prevent an overreliance on the technology.
The PTI survey also found that local officials believe cybersecurity management is the area that could benefit most from AI, ahead of data analysis and citizen engagement, which can include the augmentation of services like 311. Already, many managed service providers use AI to track and mitigate cyberattacks, as do around a third of other organizations, according to a recent Gartner survey. Shark said that will continue to grow as local governments rely more on companies for those services rather than look in house.
“Not that we don't need staff at the local level,” he said. “We do. But we just don't have enough expertise. AI is particularly good at detecting … anomalies, patterns and trends.”
With the ongoing lack of a codified national AI framework, something Shark called a “lost opportunity,” state and local governments will continue to step up with their own policies governing the use of the technology. He said he expects that the “overwhelming majority of localities” will have policies in place around governance, and will continue to experiment with new use cases and applications that have yet to be thought of.
Indeed, 58% of respondents believe that in the next three years, AI will bring dramatic change to how local governments operate and deliver services.
Amid the hype and excitement surrounding AI and its generative capabilities, Shark said it could be very impactful in the coming years. He called it “probably the third most impactful thing that's happened in the last 50 years,” behind the internet being available publicly and the introduction of cloud computing. But it will continue to be a “moving target” as the technology develops.
“The irony is, it's a race of learning,” Shark said. “We're learning about how to use it, and it's learning how to respond to us. And so the race is on.”