Connecting state and local government leaders
COMMENTARY | AI needs people to maximize its potential.
Artificial intelligence is playing a bigger role in people’s daily lives, often in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. That's because AI is built into internet searches, email spam filters, online shopping, digital photo services and much more. With little fanfare, AI has helped government services work better too, whether it’s administering unemployment benefits more efficiently or providing communities with authoritative information about COVID-19 vaccines.
Looking to 2022 and beyond, we believe this is only the start, and we foresee even more uses for AI in the public sector, as more government institutions find practical applications of AI that ease rote work and deliver better outcomes for the public at large.
It can't come fast enough. While hundreds of millions of Americans depend on their government for all sorts of things, from farm subsidies to healthcare for veterans, customer satisfaction has been a challenge. In fact, in a recent report published by the General Service Administration, customer satisfaction with the federal government is below any of 31 different private-sector industries.
Ask government workers, and you'll learn they're dissatisfied too, as they deal with excess paperwork, outdated technologies, and bureaucratic rote tasks that hinder their ability to serve the public effectively. How can AI help? The same way it helps give you the right choice of movies to watch or filters out irrelevant websites in a search.
Much the way people want personalized entertainment choices, and medicine is increasingly personalized to a patient's lifestyle and genetic makeup, we are evolving toward personalized government, with better forecasting of needs, more direct information helping individuals, and more efficient processing. Some AI implementations are already helping reshape the current government approach of making the customer come to programs and services. Instead programs and services come to the customer, often with multiple agencies united in a more customer-centric service approach.
Despite fantastical movie scripts about AI powering malicious robots, it’s actually software that is very good at making and acting on statistical inferences with lots of data. And that makes it great for doing things like processing paperwork, digitizing claims requests and automating rote tasks, such as reviewing applications, the very things that slow service delivery and lead to civil servant burnout. That means people get to do things people are good at, while machines do things machines are built for.
Well-built AI can be tuned to different branches of government. For example, to create interactive chatbots in call centers to free up civil servants and allow citizens to get quick answers to common questions and connect customers to a human agent for more sophisticated tasks. It can help people get through paperwork when applying for assistance after a disaster or a pandemic such as COVID, and assist local officials in spotting fraud. It can speed processes like hiring, licensing, qualifying to bid and other paperwork-intensive work in the federal, state and local governments.
Take the employment office in Illinois, which used virtual agents to help more than one million unemployed citizens file claims. Handling more than 140,000 phone and web inquiries each day, it saves the state $100 million a year. The state of Wisconsin is using AI to review occupational license applications faster, so that doctors, dentists, barbers and many more professionals can have the credentials they need to get working. AI is also helping the Navy find and prevent rust on its vessels and the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit study and detect cancer among veterans. And AI is helping the city of Memphis find potholes before too many constituents get flat tires.
As with business, AI is now moving well beyond IT professionals and into serving the day-to-day missions of front-line public sector managers and employees. An expected Biden administration executive order on customer experience will further push the government to explore using AI for a better customer experience, with more personalized services.
Using practical and results-oriented AI, means more satisfied customers, and more cost-effective service delivery. With less rote work, government employees can expect less burnout and more creative and satisfying engagements with both the public and each other. These are all critical positive outcomes for delivering better government services.
Mike Daniels is vice president of global public sector for Google Cloud.