Government and AI: more efficient while saving money

A recent Deloitte report has found that within 5-7 years, $37 billion can be saved annually by the government with 1.1 billion hours freed up through AI.

One of the ongoing debates about good governance is centered around the practicality of cutting back on government spending in order to reduce ballooning deficits. It is possible that the next few years could provide a solution for those keen on governments both big and small.

A recent report from Deloitte has found that within the next 5-7 years, as much as $37 billion can be saved annually by the US federal government with 1.1 billion hours freed up thanks to AI. Overall, it estimates that 30% of federal employees’ time can be freed up and it projects similar figures for state governments as well.

Instead of sitting in offices sifting through stacks of paper, workers will be able to focus on creative projects and deal with the public on the frontline. In fact, business magnate Jack Ma is convinced we will only need to work four hours a day in the future thanks to AI and robots. An artificial intelligence customer service is a win for people who want receive better, more personal levels of care and for the employee who will be spending more time engaged in the creative and enjoyable aspects of their job.

What tasks are expected to be automated?

The report cites that the “sweet spot” for AI is repetitive, routine tasks, such as data entry or documenting. These high-volume tasks are thought to take up 10-20% of an employee’s time – or hundreds of millions of hours each year.

In fact, AI generally permeates itself within less important tasks first. Deloitte’s research found that over 13 years, tasks with above average importance saw labor input gains of 4.6% while those of below average importance saw a decrease of 1.3%.

A characteristic feature of technological change is also a “hollowing out” of the middle of the labor market. Those areas with a large number of workers and relatively high wages are usually the jobs which justify an investment in technology. These jobs are generally held by clerks or administrative professionals and are the “dull jobs” that computers usually take over during the second wave of automation.

What are the real life examples of AI helping governments?

AI is already being utilized to streamline government services, making them more efficient than ever.

The Las Vegas health department used AI to analyze tens of thousands of tweets to detect possible food poisonings in order to determine which restaurants to inspect. As a result, the department was able to issue citations in 15% of inspections as opposed to 9% when selecting restaurants at random – saving it a significant amount of time and money while better protecting public health. Of course, this is a very narrow example of AI’s use but the concept can easily be widened out to other areas.

Further examples include the recent project by ASI to ensure buses in the UK turned up on time. It built an adaptive scheduling system which modeled how traffic flowed through the city. Within weeks, buses were 38% more likely to show up on time. The result was less crowded buses, happier passengers and massive savings for the company.

Machine learning has also been utilized to help government services. French prisons saw a 15% drop in reoffending rates for drug and theft offenses through improved cell sharing configurations.

Untapped potential

Improving buses, reducing crime and cleaning up our restaurants are all fairly obvious, tangible ways in which an individual can envision improved living standards. But AI can also provide rewards when deployed through other channels.

One example of this is the US Patent and Trademark Office which had a backlog of 558,091 patent applications in October 2015. A government report found that first patent applications which were eventually accepted saw a reduction in company employment and sales growth by 21% and 28%, respectively, over five years.

AI and natural language processing will be able to sift through the large amounts of complex data to reduce these backlogs. As such, companies will have more confidence in investing within the country, employment will increase, as will economic growth.

Deepening rather than diminishing human work

With good reason, concerns have been raised about the long-term impact the inevitable rise of AI will have on government workers. As has already been outlined here, the healthy approach is to see how we can use machines to further enhance the work of humans – an attitude of augmentation through automation if you like.

To do this, agencies can plan in the long-term how they hope to utilize the potential of AI and communicate this to employees. A smooth transition will manage any possible disruptions in technology and reassure concerned workers.

As already outlined previously, governments can also look to use artificial intelligence to retrain employees into sectors which will require more manpower. AI can be used to make education more efficient than ever before by tailoring it to each individual.

The prospect of a world where people can effortlessly retrain and adapt to required roles should be viewed as a soon-to-be reality rather than a fantasy.

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