AI: government must move beyond ‘hype or horror’ mode

19 Oct 18

The use of artificial intelligence in public services will only live up to the ‘hype’ if there is public trust, a report presented at a digital summit has warned.

At the Tallinn Digital Summit in Estonia earlier this week, the Centre for Public Impact called for governments to take the necessary steps to build legitimacy, and to move away from the narrative of ‘machines taking over the world’.

Danny Buerkli, programme director at the CPI, said: “When it comes to AI in government, we either hear hype or horror – but never the reality.

“AI in public services will not become a reality if it doesn’t have legitimacy.”

Authorities around the world are already using AI, from assessing which railway carriages may need maintenance work next to judging which convicted offenders might be most likely to re-offend, the CPI said in a paper on how governments can secure legitimacy for their AI systems.  

It added that AI is expected to help authorities identify tax fraud and make public transport more responsive, but the public is sceptical and fears job losses.

The report warned that governments are not “adequately prepared” and are not informing citizens of where and how AI is being used or could be used, which would secure the levels of trust and understanding needed to achieve legitimacy.

Buerkli said: “AI in government services - from diagnosing serious health conditions in people who might not currently have easy access to the necessary clinical specialist and predicting epidemics to chatbots on tax helplines - could create dramatic improvements in people’s lives.

“But AI also has the potential to drive a wedge between citizens and people, and ultimately fail if not introduced with care.”

The paper set out a number of recommendations for governments to get the basics of AI down. These include the need to educate organisations and the public about AI to build trust and to improve the system and adapt to changing circumstances.

It also said that governments should not think of the technology as replacing jobs so much as replacing tasks and creating more diverse roles.

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