Editorial

OECD urges the global sector to start taking AI much more seriously

“At a time of increasing complexity, uncertainty and shifting demands, governments and public servants need to understand, test and embed new ways of doing things.”

Posted 11 December 2019 by

While the public sector has trailed the private sector in the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI), governments are making progress in catching up, states a recent OECD report.

36 world governments recently polled by the OECD have, or plan, public sector AI strategies that will allow AI to be integrated into policy-making and service design, according to Hello, World: Artificial intelligence and its use in the public sector.

These include use of AI by the Belgian government to analyse citizen input on issues such as climate change in the shape of its CitizenLab, a civic technology company that uses Machine Learning algorithms to help civil servants easily process thousands of citizen contributions. AI was used to pick out the best ideas, with the company now filtering the findings to develop a report for elected officials with 16 possible policy recommendations. 

Similarly, the Canadian government’s Pre-load Air Cargo Targeting (PACT) team receives nearly a million so-say “pre-load air cargo” records per year. Each record may include anywhere from ten to 100 fields, and the system estimates a human employee does not have enough time to review even 10% of the records the software.

And while While AI cannot yet replace human analysis of cargo, the report’s authors tell us, the software already supplies efficient results in filtering and prioritisation than previously-used methods. As a result of these impressive first results, OECD reports Transport Canada is now working to integrate the approach into its risk assessment process.

These and other impressive case studies in the report, say the authors, should act as a prompt for other governments to start taking AI more seriously – both as a tool for driving change, but also as something likely to impact the citizenry they are tasked with protecting, too:

“At a time of increasing complexity, uncertainty and shifting demands, governments and public servants need to understand, test and embed new ways of doing things,” it says.

“AI can be used to make existing processes more efficient and accurate. It can be used to consume and analyse unstructured information, such as tweets, to help governments gain insights into citizen opinions.

“Finally, in looking to the future, it will be important to consider and prepare for the implications of AI on society, work, and human purpose.”