What can AI and generative AI do for governments?

Few technologies have taken the world by storm the way artificial intelligence (AI) has over the past few years. AI and its many use cases have become a topic of public discussion no longer relegated to tech experts. AI—generative AI, in particular—has tremendous potential to transform society as we know it for good, boost productivity and unlock trillions in economic value in the coming years.

AI’s value is not limited to advances in industry and consumer products alone. When implemented in a responsible way—where the technology is fully governed, privacy is protected and decision making is transparent and explainable—AI has the power to usher in a new era of government services. Such services can empower citizens and help restore trust in public entities by improving workforce efficiency and reducing operational costs in the public sector. On the backend, AI likewise has the potential to supercharge digital modernization in by, for example, automating the migration of legacy software to more flexible cloud-based applications, or accelerating mainframe application modernization.

Despite the many potential advantages, many government agencies are still grasping on how to implement AI and generative AI in particular In many cases, government agencies around the globe face a choice. They can either embrace AI and its advantages, tapping into the technology’s potential to help improve the lives of the citizens they serve. Or they can stay on the sidelines and risk missing out on AI’s ability to help agencies more effectively meet their objectives.

Government agencies early to adopt solutions leveraging AI and automation offer concrete insights into the technology’s public sector benefits—whether modernizing the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax return processing or using automation to greatly improve the efficiency of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Health Supply Chain Program. Other successful AI deployments reach citizens directly, including a virtual assistants like the one created by the Ukranian Embassy in the Czech Republic to provides information to Ukrainian citizens. The new wave of AI, with foundational models provided by generative AI, could represent the new major opportunity to put AI to work for governments.

Three main areas of focus 

Getting there, however, requires government agencies to focus on the main areas where AI use cases can benefit their agencies, and its customers the most. In our view, there are three main areas.

The first is workforce transformation, or digital labor. At all levels of governments, from national entities to local governments, public employees must be ready for this new AI era. While that can mean hiring new talent like data scientists and software programmers, it should also mean providing existing workers with the training they need to manage AI-related projects. With this can come improved productivity, as technologies such as natural language processing (NLP) hold the promise of relieving the need for heavy text data reading and analysis. The goal is to free up time for public employees to engage in high value meetings, creative thinking and meaningful work.  

The second major focus must be citizen support. For AI to truly benefit society, the public sector needs to prioritize use cases that directly benefit citizens. There is potential for a variety of uses in the future—whether it’s providing information in real time, personalizing services based on a citizen’s particular needs, or hastening processes that have a reputation for being slow. For example, anyone who has ever had to file paperwork, or file a claim knows the feeling all too well: Sitting in an office for hours, waiting while employees click through endless screens, hunting and pecking for information stored in different databases. What if AI’s ability to access, organize and leverage data could create new possibilities for improving government offerings, even those already available online, by unlocking data across agencies to deliver information and services more intuitively and proactively?

Third, AI is also becoming a crucial component of the public sector’s digital transformation efforts. Governments are regularly held back from true transformation by legacy systems with tightly coupled workflow rules that require substantial effort and significant cost to modernize. For example, public sector agencies can make better use of data by migrating certain technology systems to the cloud and infuse it with AI. AI-powered tools hold the potential to help with pattern detection in large stores of data, and also be able to write computer programs. This could benefit cost optimization and also strengthen cybersecurity, as it can help detect threats quickly. This way, instead of seeking hard-to-find skills, agencies can reduce their skills gap and tap into evolving talent. 

Commitment to responsible AI 

Last but not least, in IBM’s view, no discussion of responsible AI in the public sector is complete without emphasizing the importance of the ethical use of the technology throughout its lifecycle of design, development, use, and maintenance—something in which IBM has promoted in the industry for years. Along with healthcare organizations and financial services entities, government and public sector entities must strive to be seen as the most trusted institutions. That means humans should continue to be at the heart of the services delivered by government while monitoring for responsible deployment by relying on the five fundamental properties for trustworthy AI: explainability, fairness, transparency, robustness and privacy.

  • Explainability: An AI system’s ability to provide a human-interpretable explanation for its predictions and insights to the public in a way that does not hide behind technical jargon.
  • Fairness: An AI system’s ability to treat individuals or groups equitably, depending on the context in which the AI system is used, countering biases and addressing discrimination related to protected characteristics, such as gender, race, age, and veteran status.
  • Transparency: An AI system’s ability to include and share information on how it has been designed and developed and what data from which sources have fed the system.
  • Robustness: An AI system’s ability to effectively handle exceptional conditions, such as abnormalities in input to guarantee consistent outputs.
  • Privacy: An AI system’s ability to prioritize and safeguard consumers’ privacy and data rights and address existing regulations in the data collection, storage and access and disclosure.

As long as AI is implemented in a way that includes all the traits mentioned above, it can help both governments and citizens alike in new ways. Perhaps the biggest benefit to AI and foundational models is its range: It can extend to even the smallest of agencies. It can be used even in state and local governmental projects, such as using models to improve how employees and citizens search databases to find out more about policies or government-issued benefits. By staying informed, responsible, and well-equipped on AI, the public sector has the ability to help shape a brighter and better future for all.  

IBM is committed to unleashing the transformative potential of foundation models and generative AI to help address high-stakes challenges. We provide open and targeted value creating AI solutions for businesses and public sector institutions. IBM watsonx, our integrated AI and data platform, embodies these principles, offering a seamless, efficient, and responsible approach to AI deployment across a variety of environments. IBM stands ready to empower governmental organizations in the age of AI. Let’s embrace the age of AI value creation together.

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