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How AI is transforming governments

How AI is transforming governments
How AI is transforming governments

The workplace transformation being shaped by developing technologies such as artificial intelligence will apply to governments as much to the private sector.

or AI, for example, can replace repetitive human jobs such as sending out tax reminders and processing payments.

Chatbots already answer public enquiries, while physical robots may soon be widely used for street-cleaning, security and maintaining public spaces.

But tasks like these are only a small part of what AI is likely to be capable of when it comes to rethinking public services.

Big data

The collection and analysis of data has the biggest potential to transform government services.

Digital information, combined with machine learning, could be used to inform planning applications and manage supply chains.

AI could also predict the future habits and needs of citizens. This can help slash costs, for example by allowing local governments to arrange refuse collections only when they are needed, or by suggesting alternative routes for traffic after a road accident.

Predictive algorithms are already used for some public services, such as hospital admissions. But AI could also help in other areas, such as employee selection, personalizing education or identifying patterns of criminal activity.

An anti-corruption tool

Blockchain technology is likely to be another game-changer when it comes to increasing efficiency and transparency.

This stores pieces of data, such as records of transactions. It was developed to record cryptocurrency deals securely and accurately.

But blockchain can also create public records of all state-related transactions, helping to eliminate fraud and corruption.

And it could be used for allocating state-run contracts by selecting companies from a list of approved providers on criteria such as safety, hitting deadlines and meeting budgets.

This could reduce or eliminate the need for time-consuming tender processes.

E-voting and E-Identities

Many governments and regional authorities are actively using AI and blockchain.

Estonia was one of the first countries to automate government processes. Cabinet meetings went paperless in 2000 and e-voting was introduced in 2007.

By 2012, 94% of tax returns were completed online. These were automated thanks to cooperation between the tax authorities and local banks.

Meanwhile, trials of driverless buses have already taken place in the capital city, Tallinn.

The government is now engaged in an open discussion about how intelligent machines and algorithms will change society, including what legislation will be needed to regulate smart technologies.

“Working only on traffic laws is kind of unreasonable,” said Marten Kaevats, adviser for digital innovation at the strategy unit of the Government Office of Estonia. “The issue of artificial intelligence is much wider and the scope is bigger than just dealing with traffic laws.”

Elsewhere, the United Arab Emirates has unveiled an AI strategy that aims to cut 250 million federal government paper transactions and save 190 million staffing hours a year, dramatically reducing government costs.

And Hong Kong is working to adopt AI that can predict and respond to natural disasters by installing sensors to gather real-time data on pollution, landslides, water levels and energy consumption.

The roads to action

Meanwhile, the Dutch city of Eindhoven is making innovative use of data collection thanks to wi-fi-trackers, cameras and microphones fitted to lamp-posts. These can alert the police to any aggressive behaviour in public places. 

Even more extensive data collection is taking place in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in a project known as City Brain, provided by tech company Alibaba’s cloud-computing subsidiary.

Information related to the location, social media and shopping habits of more than 9 million residents was collected and used to inform decision making.

The system’s advocates say it has reduced lower-level crime, as well as cut traffic congestion and road accidents.

The scheme has attracted attention elsewhere. The government of Malaysia has announced it will also use City Brain to help the city of Kuala Lumpur run smoothly. 

States around the world are keeping a close eye on such projects to work out what fits best with their geography, laws and citizens’ needs.

Some countries will want to debate the morals, ethics and laws surrounding privacy and the mass collection and use of data.

But, however they are used, these technologies finally give governments the chance to shake off the reputation of being inefficient and slow.