Connecting state and local government leaders
Processes that are labor intensive, and that involve high volumes of information are among the areas where it could prove useful.
SEATTLE — State government interest in artificial intelligence technology is on the rise, according to experts and a state official who spoke at an event here this week.
Nelson Moe, Virginia's chief information officer, said he and his team see opportunities for incorporating predictive analytics into government agency workflows, and that AI technology could help with things like detecting waste, fraud and abuse, and supporting decisions in areas ranging from finance to traffic management.
“We want to take it up the value chain, across the board," Moe said during a conference the National Association of State Chief Information Officers held here this week.
He noted that Virginia recently fast tracked the implementation of robotic process automation, or RPA, to help with processing unemployment claims. Moe said the technology cut the time needed to review certain unemployment information from hours to minutes.
The state's health department is using RPA technology to help go through lab reports, he also said. While it's not the same as artificial intelligence, RPA is seen as a sort of step in that direction.
Bruce Tyler, a senior partner with IBM, whose portfolio includes AI and state and local government, said that "high-volume, high-labor" processes are the types of areas where governments may want to consider AI or machine learning technology.
AI tends to raise a host of concerns, though. There's the possibility, for example, that faulty data could cause someone to be denied eligibility for a government program they should have access to. And there are questions about what the future holds for state workers who could see their jobs phased out as machines take on the work they do.
Meanwhile, using predictive analytics to help guide decisions within the law enforcement and the criminal justice arenas—like whether to grant bail—is an especially sensitive topic.
But Joseph Morris, deputy chief innovation officer for e.Republic, described how some of the fear and anxiety about the technology seems to be receding among state officials over the past couple years.
He shared survey findings based on feedback from about 35 states, and said over 60% of states reported that they're doing some work with AI. The pandemic pushed many states and local governments to adopt technology like "chatbots" to field citizen inquiries online. Morris said states are showing interest in going further.
Future Uses and Challenges
Looking ahead, potential targets for future state investments, according to Morris, include robotic process automation and using advanced technologies like AI and machine learning to support call centers and also to help with cybersecurity.
The challenges adopting this kind of technology include states lacking staff or contractors with the skills required to roll it out, existing computer systems that are badly outdated, and the need for a clearer framework to govern how AI and machine learning can be deployed.
Another issue Morris flagged is that many proposed uses for the technology so far have come from industry, rather than agencies.
In Virginia, Moe described plans to develop technology around AI that his department would be able to offer up as centralized services to other agencies across state government, in order to support their operations. But he emphasized that there would be no mandate to use the technology.
Bill Lucia is a senior editor for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.
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