What problems will artificial intelligence solve in the public sector?

Modern consumers and modern government constituents are the same people. When they order something from Amazon or do their online banking, they increasingly expect those experiences to meet a higher standard of quality than they once did.

The same holds true for their interactions with their local governments. In their eyes, if private companies offer advanced technology and convenient features, then logically, public institutions ought to do the same.

>See also: Britain sees world-beating growth in artificial intelligence jobs

Unfortunately, few city councils have anything that approaches the same budget as Amazon. Municipalities can’t afford to staff thousands of workers in a contact centre, nor invest millions of dollars in website rebrands. To elevate their services to match the expectations set by the private sector, public institutions need to leverage new tools and technologies. But how?

The solution to the problem is complex, yet the answer to the question is simple: practical artificial intelligence. Government entities such as the Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) in the UK have implemented AI to compete with customer service in the commercial sector, and are working to diminish the stigma that can often correlate with government communication. AVDC has seen AI dramatically improves the efficiency of their public services, increasing response times by over 50% – demonstrating that these new tools can empower governments to provide the personalised experiences modern consumers expect.

You can see the video case study below:

To keep pace with evolving expectations, today’s cities and municipalities have an excellent opportunity to look to AI for help.

AI: Fact or fiction

While some technological tools are like hammers, good for only a few types of jobs, AI is more like an entire workshop. Public sector institutions can lean on AI to improve their online experiences, provide citizens with better access to information, measure the effectiveness of new policies, and do just about everything else a city needs to thrive.

That does not mean cities can replace human workers with robots anytime soon. Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) only exists in movies. Not even the most ambitious Silicon Valley startups are dreaming of robots with human-level intellect or reasoning skills — for now, at least.

>See also: Tech sector and government back £1 billion AI deal 

That said, AI can do much more than common chatbots might lead you to believe. While chatbots only know how to respond to specific cues programmed into their “if-then” databases, machine learning empowers today’s tools to do much more. The latest AI technology can learn from past experiences, analyse patterns, and assist human workers through methods thought to be science fiction just a few years ago.

The role of AI in the public sector

The age of AI-assisted governments isn’t a few years away: it’s already here. The most effective public institutions around the world today rely on artificial intelligence to increase constituent satisfaction and work more efficiently.

Consider the following ways AI helps governments transform their work:

1. Improves customer service experiences

Even the smallest organisations are tasked with providing high-quality user experiences and support for their citizens. This means that really anyone who is part of a team charged with delivering positive government and consumer experiences should be recognised as a customer service professional.

These roles can span from direct customer service, like manning a contact centre, to second- or third-removed, such as the developer who writes lines of code with the objective of allowing people to access real-time information.

>See also: British public ‘would use AI’ to relieve NHS pressures

In order to easily connect with customers, who are often multi-device (mobile, website, social media, newsletter, in-person) consumers of information, cities are beginning to see the benefits of accurate, quick-to-respond AI. Public bodies that innovate and put citizens’ needs at the centre of their service design will ultimately maximise engagement with services that drive revenue.

2. Listens to the pulse of the city

In the past, local governments struggled to know what their constituents wanted. They relied on slow polls and phone complaints to identify pressing issues, and citizens had to wait days or weeks for a response.

AI changes that dynamic by tapping into social media to learn about problems in real time. When people post or tweet about prospective emergency situations, new tools can identify the threat and alert responders before the situation gets out of hand. In less pressing situations, AI can collect feedback on projects and government interactions to gauge sentiment on city activity.

Using dynamic dashboards, city leaders can evaluate collected data in one place to make better decisions. AI eliminates the guesswork and empowers governments to listen to their citizens, communicate effectively, and provide more relevant services.

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By implementing AI-powered systems for AVDC’s residents’ services team, the city was able to improve response time by 50%, with an accuracy level of over 90%. Additionally, moving from a telephone answer cost of £2.22 per transaction to AI-powered conversations such as web chats has reduced transaction costs to a minuscule 10-12p.

3. Closes the loop

AI empowers decision-makers to see whether their policies are working as intended. Are the roads being fixed on time? Are inspections catching potential problems before they happen? Are city workers following up on projects? Using AI, city leaders can answer these questions and close the gaps to ensure their governments operate as efficiently as possible.

For citizens who are hard to reach — including those with vision, hearing, or movement impairments — AI makes life a bit easier. New tools can help citizens navigate city websites and receive more personalised notifications. Computer vision can even help cities analyse body cam and security evidence to help both city employees and the citizens who encounter them feel safe and respected.

4. Evens the playing field

Residents judge their local government the same way they judge everything else in their lives. If the city website is slow or difficult to navigate, they wonder why the city doesn’t just emulate the sites of their favourite consumer brands. If the city’s customer service agents aren’t helpful, citizens wonder why they can’t equal the level of support common at private companies.

>See also: Robots could replace 250,000 public sector workers by 2030

Using AI, cities can catch up to the big brands on the market and provide citizens with the high-quality experiences they expect. Customer service AI can help citizens find the information they need. Website AI can help citizens navigate online services. Some AI can even help citizens with applications, guiding them through the process and suggesting additional services.

5. Enables predictive responses

Imagine if a city knew about infrastructure issues before they happened. What if a machine could predict traffic congestion, analyse travel patterns, and alert officials to dangerous situations before accidents occurred?

That future is already here. Predictive elements in AI help cities analyse infrastructure issues and fix small problems before they grow larger. Modern systems can track water pressure and alert workers to fix pipes before they burst. For nearly every emergency cities face, AI offers a way to solve the problem before it ever becomes a problem.

Artificial intelligence has already begun to change the world, and local governments don’t have to sit on the sidelines while private companies enjoy all the benefits. Citizen expectations are high, and as these tools provide increased personalisation and new conveniences, those expectations will only grow higher. Cities and other government institutions should look to AI today to expand their capabilities and prepare their organisations for what comes next.


Sourced by Mikhail Naumov, Co-founder and President, DigitalGenius

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...