Experts optimistic that AI could save government billions of hours through automation

By freeing workers from mundane tasks, officials and analysts say artificial intelligence could enable government to focus more closely on its mission.

Government technology figures from the private sectors are optimistic about the future of artificial intelligence (AI) in government, but say that there’s work to be done in informing agencies about the technology’s potential.

During a panel titled “Using AI to Automate Government” at the Center for Data Innovation’s U.S. Data Innovation Day 2017, which was sponsored by StateScoop, the conversation revolved around how AI can make government more efficient, free up human capital for other projects, and overcome implementation obstacles.

The panel came to a consensus that government workers spend a lot of time on tasks that could be automated. 

“It turns out that a lot of those tasks are documenting and recording information,” said William Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights, citing a Deloitte study on how AI can redesign government work. “They’re communicating with people. There’s a lot of ‘paperwork’ kind of tasks.”


The study suggests that AI can free up 1.2 billion annual labor hours in government.

“The goal is to relieve people from doing a lot of the manual, mundane, menial tasks that no one really likes doing, so they can spend more time on actually mission-related work, and using machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision and other AI technologies to extend and augment human capabilities,” Eggers said.

Alec Chalmers, director of Public Sector Vertical Sales at Amazon Web Services, argued that government agencies should open themselves up all the ways they can involve AI in governance and be prepared to fail.

“If you’re a government leader, I think what you need to do is to allow your people to fail. Allow your people to innovate,” Chalmers said. “Keeping your IT staff involved and invigorated as a federal, state or local worker, you can add value to what your mission is.”

Justin Herman, who leads the Emerging Citizens Technology Program at General Services Administration, talked about ways to cut through bureaucracy and reluctance to apply AI. He said that certain terminology can scare some government leaders off from potential AI solutions.


“Forget ‘AI.’ Forget ‘robotic process automation.’ Forget everything that could be a trigger word or is a trigger word and just focus on your problem,” Herman said. “Maybe, potentially, something like AI can be a solution.”

Herman stressed that there are already many AI solutions ready for government adoption and that agencies just need to be informed of them. He plugged the GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology Atlas, a catalog of existing emerging technology services, including AI, available for government agencies and other organizations.

“There’s more than people think is already available to them. Usually the question is ‘how do we start making these things available?’” Herman said. “What we’ve really got to do is educate on how we can use what we already have better.”

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