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AI for Citizen Services and Government: Here’s an Action Plan

From online services like Netflix and Facebook, to chatbots on our phones and in our homes like Siri and Alexa, we are beginning to interact with artificial intelligence (AI) on a near daily basis.

AI is the programming or training of a computer to do tasks typically reserved for human intelligence, whether it is recommending which movie to watch next or answering technical questions. Soon, AI will permeate the ways we interact with our government, too. From small cities in the US to countries like Japan, government agencies are looking to AI to improve citizen services.

While the potential future use cases of AI in government remain bounded by government resources and the limits of both human creativity and trust in government, the most obvious and immediately beneficial opportunities are those where AI can reduce administrative burdens, help resolve resource allocation problems, and take on significantly complex tasks.

Many AI case studies in citizen services today fall into five categories: answering questions, filling out and searching documents, routing requests, translation, and drafting documents. These applications could make government work more efficient while freeing up time for employees to build better relationships with citizens. With citizen satisfaction with digital government offerings leaving much to be desired, AI may be one way to bridge the gap while improving citizen engagement and service delivery.

Despite the clear opportunities, AI will not solve systemic problems in government, and could potentially exacerbate issues around service delivery, privacy, and ethics if not implemented thoughtfully and strategically. Agencies interested in implementing AI can learn from previous government transformation efforts, as well as a private-sector implementation of AI.

Government offices should consider these six strategies for applying AI to their work: make AI a part of a goals-based, citizen-centric program; get citizen input; build upon existing resources; be data-prepared and tread carefully with privacy; mitigate ethical risks and avoid AI decision making; and, augment employees, do not replace them.

This paper explores the various types of AI applications, and current and future use of AI in government delivery of citizen services, with a focus on citizen inquiries and information. It also offers strategies for governments as they consider implementing AI.

By Hila Mehr, an Ash Center Technology and Democracy Fellow (‘16–’17) at Harvard Kennedy School. 

Read the white paper on “AI for Citizen Services and Government” on AI Trends.

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