What lies behind the AI hype for governments?


So much debate still rages about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it means for the future of society and humanity. While this continues, governments around the world are actively embracing the prospect of transforming their departments into smart digital governments that are able to deliver improved services to organisations and life-enhancing services to and resources to citizens who really need them. And do so in more collaborative, joined up ways that rely on sharing information and insights. Layer on the prospect of being able to do so at significantly lower cost and with greater operational efficiency; it’s no wonder that the prospect of AI is irresistible.

Rightly so, for we can already see just how disruptive a force AI has been in the commercial sector: in retail (with Alibaba and Amazon), in transport (with Uber), in entertainment (with Netflix) and thousands more applications. So just how did these organisations get past the AI hype and put it at the heart of their very being? More importantly, how can government organisations leverage the advanced analytics that powers AI, infusing it with intelligence so that it radically and quickly changes service delivery and citizen outcomes?

Let’s start at the beginning, with the fundamental challenges facing every government organisation

It boils down to financial and human resources as well as time, coupled with the growing number of citizens and organisations requiring interaction, many of whom have an increasing number of complex requirements.

By automating the analysis of the large volumes of data that are available to governments and learning from them, Artificial Intelligence can help with much of the day-to-day decision-making that is required. The generated outputs from this process form a feedback loop that can result in continuously improving services and more efficiency.

AI can also learn more about human behavior, even at the individual level than any single civil servant could possibly hope to. All of which means that governments around the world are beginning to adopt AI to benefit citizens in all manner of ways.

Logical thinking: the fast route to AI success

Before we look at those for inspiration, it’s important that government departments apply a similar structured approach and thinking, with regard to AI adoption, as commercial organisations have. Laissez faire approaches might work for cash rich development houses and venture capital-backed start-ups, but they are highly risky for public sector bodies with accountabilities to Parliament and to citizens.

From our work with customers across the private and public sector, we’ve put together a five-point consideration framework that will take you through the critical issues – human, process, data, ethics and more – that all organisations on the brink of AI implementation will need to evaluate. By undertaking this preliminary work, we believe you can reduce business risk and maximise value. You can find much more detail on this at the SAS Public Sector site.

Public sector use cases: food for thought

Many government activities are ripe for AI. So, while setting out some of my favourites – for their ingenuity and outcomes value – partnering experts in the field of advanced analytics can help you rigorously define appropriate use cases outside of those you see here.

Firstly, it’s interesting how defence departments use AI to analyse a far richer and broader suite of contextual data to detect and evaluate emerging threats. Law enforcement authorities use AI to monitor police officers, monitoring patterns of stress in order to balance their working lives and mitigate the risk of poor frontline decision-making. They also use AI to analyse connections between criminal entities by rapidly analysing the patterns of their activity and networks of associates. All of which helps frontline officers to get a handle on the threat landscape and deliver better outcomes for all.

Ministries for agriculture use AI to help farmers understand the best times to sow and harvest crops, using decades of weather data and current rainfall information – and there is no need for in-field sensor equipment and all its associated installation and management costs.

In education, exam marking can largely be deployed using AI, learning and improving over time and only requiring human input on creative subjects that require the kind of “thinking” AI cannot achieve. Critically, this frees up teaching staff for lesson planning and individual tutoring.

Many more decisions can be made faster on critical human outcomes such as welfare qualification and payments, immigration, environmental and urban development modelling to mitigate the effects of housing and infrastructure, given our changing global climate.

Fantastic, life-saving work is being supported by AI in healthcare. Not just in things like analysing medical images so that cancer can be diagnosed some three months before consultants would pick it up, or in eye health, or discovering new models of care, but in designing IoT-supported housing for example, sending sensor information back to healthcare authorities, that allows citizens to maintain their independence for longer. AI is also helping complex networks of social and healthcare providers to understand patterns of care and child welfare risk, modelling which interventions deliver the best possible outcomes effectively.

When it comes to money, every penny counts, which is why AI is proving so powerful in the detection of fraud and tax evasion and avoidance, specifically at HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) in the UK.

If you are concerned that AI machines will dehumanise the provision of public services, we believe the opposite will happen. In fact, civil servants can be released from laborious activities and redeployed to those that require lateral thinking, empathy and creativity. And that can only result in a more citizen-centric approach to decisioning and service delivery.

Making AI possible: a partnership approach

Making ‘the possible’ a reality clearly requires specialist skills. Not only in developing the necessary algorithms, but in helping Government departments to understand the ethical, compliance, security and process issues involved in making AI real. I’m proud to say that SAS is already working with central government to successfully deploy AI. In fact, we have been spearheading machine learning for more than 40 years.

Explore AI for government with our experts

Join our #saschat discussion on 25th January, kicking off at 3:00pm UK GMT, 4:00 CET, 10:00 am EDT to explore these points with our experts:

Q1: Which countries are leading the way with AI, within their governments?
Q2: Why should governments adopt AI?
Q3: How will AI help world governments?
Q4: How can governments invest in AI?
Q5: How do ethics impact potential AI adoption?
Q6: What are your favorite examples of AI for government?
Q7: Which 2019 AI trends will impact governments?

Sign into your own Twitter account and search for #saschat to get into the discussion.

The blog was first published on Civil Service World

About Author

Roderick Crawford

Regional VP Northern Europe, SAS

Roderick has 25 years’ experience in international systems and software. He is responsible for driving analytics adoption across all segments of the UK and Ireland public sector. He is the leader of a senior and experienced team delivering value to major government clients through the full range of SAS solutions including advanced and predictive analytics, data management, data governance and visualisation.

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