Robots will be running the UK Government, says Chancellor Philip Hammond

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has told a House of Lords committee that robots will be running large areas of the government as artificial intelligence advances.

This will help the state do more with less. Indeed, the use of robots to streamline services will deliver savings.

The chancellor told an economic affairs committee that the “very significant areas of government activity which involve relatively low-level decision-making which will be highly susceptible to AI, probably over a relatively short period of time, which does present the tantalising possibility of being able to drive some real productivity enhancement in the delivery of government processes.”

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

However, the pursuit of robots in government could put thousands of public sector jobs at risk. In February, Reform – a think tank – estimated that this figure could be as much as 250,000 public sector workers (out of five million) over the next 15 years.

Indeed, Mark Bridger, VP, OpenText, notes that “The Digital Revolution will drive an increasing reliance on self-service technology, machine to machine (M2M) communication and AI, and there is no denying that every job in every industry will be impacted. However, while some jobs will disappear and others will change significantly, the opportunity for innovation and change is limitless. Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies will give government departments faster access to sophisticated insights, and consequently empower them to make better decisions for citizens.”

Hammond added that Britain, as a leader in technology, would continue to invest very significantly in different areas over the next few years, “not just AI, but fintech, biotech, materials technologies, big data manipulation, and the internet of things”.

>See also: Smart move: emerging technologies make their mark on public service

In practice

Currently governments across the world, including the United States are using AI for menial tasks like form-filling. Britain uses facial recognition technology at the borders.

UK attitude to AI in government


OpenText recently surveyed 2,000 UK consumers on their attitudes towards AI in government and found that two thirds of UK citizens (66%) believe robots will be working in government within 20 years, with 16% thinking this could happen within the next 1-2 years.

Those surveyed did not, however, fear the introduction of robot technology in government. In fact, more than one in four (26%) think that robot technology would make better decisions than elected government representatives. Yet, 16% said that despite robot technology being able to make better choices, they would want humans to make the final decisions. An additional 35% of UK citizens do not feel as though robots would be able to factor in cultural aspects when it comes to making a decision.

When asked which government functions could be better performed by robot / intelligent automation technology, one in ten UK citizens (10%) said robots would make better decisions on the economy than humans.

>See also: The jobs artificial intelligence will take over first

Other key findings from the survey include:

• One in five (20%) think there would be less admin and form filling to complete as a result of introducing robot technology into government.

• ‘Reduced waiting times’ was identified as the biggest benefit to employing robot technology in government, with nearly a quarter of UK citizens (24%) identifying this as the main issue robots could help improve.

• Nearly one in five (19%) believe there would be fewer errors in government processes

However, despite the majority of UK citizens seeing the benefits of AI in the public sector and believing robots would work in government by 2037, they were more sceptical to the reality of its implementation in the near future, compared to other countries. The UK ranked lowest across European countries and the US when respondents were asked whether they think robot technology would be working in government in the next five years:

Country % of respondents that think robot technology will be working in government in the next five years
UK 16%
Germany 16%
Spain 22%
USA 22%
France 24%
Netherlands 28%

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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...