Is AI starting to help the UK public sector?

In the light of last week’s tip of the hat in the Spring Budget to the potential of Artificial Intelligence for the nation’s economy, what evidence is there of its promise for the public sector? Quite a lot already, it turns out

Posted 13 March 2017 by

The government says it sees great potential for Artificial Intelligence for our overall economy, but is there any scope for the application of smart systems in the day-to-day work of public part of UK Plc?

The answer seems to be yes – with real applications of the techniques encompassed by that term ‘AI’ already starting to come through.

The examples were usefully combined last week in a special post-Budget feature in a resource of news, events and information for technology innovators in the UK, Tech City News.

One is at the central government level, where the Serious Fraud Office used the power of AI for the first time in its landmark investigation of Rolls Royce, which saw the car manufacturer found guilty of bribery and corruption in January this year.

Specifically, the government’s law enforcement arm was able to sift, index and summarise 30 million documents it needed to work through as part of its investigation – an achievement that got even more impressive as the work went on, as the software was smart enough to learn on the job, deepening on its understanding of the case and identify relevant material.

RAVN, the vendor behind the technology claims that, as a result, the system contributed to cracking the case “exponentially quicker” than if it had been investigated manually.

Meanwhile in the local government sector, Tech City News points to the use at Enfield London Borough Council of a chatbot called Amelia from IPsoft that it wants to use to improve service delivery by directing residents to correct information and helping to authenticate licenses.

Amelia was designed to emulate the way in which people communicate using natural language and is thought to offer ways to automate contact centres, but the council told the Evening Standard that there were “no plans” to get rid of any of its 50 call centre workers.

Meanwhile, in the NHS, Google’s AI arm DeepMind – itself once a UK start-up – has been helping specialists at Moorfields Eye Hospital to help in the diagnosis of two nasty eye conditions, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

The idea is to see if AI can cut the time it takes to analyse complex scans, which would in turn result in faster diagnosis and treatment for patients, while in another example, A&E teams in some London hospitals are looking at an expert system from a UK AI specialist called Babylon Health that can help triage the seriousness of patient conditions in a bid to reduce the pressure on things like the NHS’s frontline services and 111 telephone hotline.

Finally in this review, the site picks up on reported use of AI by the security services and the Police in the shape of the Met.

No wonder the article notes how AI has been “credited with helping organisations save time and money – both attractive propositions for governments across the globe”.