State-level AI deployment picks up steam
- By Stephanie Kanowitz
- Oct 23, 2019
State agencies are applying artificial intelligence like a salve to ease pain points such as workforce shortages and budget constraints, according to a new report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).
Released this month, “Delivering on Digital Government: Achieving the Promise of Artificial Intelligence” found that 79% of respondents to an August survey by the Center for Digital Government and NASCIO, with support from IBM, said they lack the resources to keep up with modern government’s demands. Of those, 32% strongly agreed that AI and related technologies can help them with operations and meeting citizen demands.
Specifically, 48% of survey respondents use or consider AI a way to shift workers away from rote tasks and toward high-value activities. Chatbots support IT help desks by answering calls about resetting passwords, for instance, and they can work round the clock directing citizens to information they need.
“Like most states, we’re understaffed in many areas, so having additional resources like chatbots lets us free up people,” said Eric Boyette, CIO at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.
Bots help in other ways, too. Ohio’s Disability Onset Alert Bot is reducing backlogs in the web-based Ohio Benefits system, which determines eligibility for public assistance. In a five-week period, the bot cleared 3,000 cases, the report stated. Building on that success, Ohio is launching Baby Bot, which in a pilot test, enrolled almost 400 infants in a managed care program, ensuring they “immediately received medical coverage to help them remain healthy and avoid life-threatening diseases,” the report said.
Additionally, 49% of respondents said AI’s ability to analyze large volumes of data from multiple sources enables them to make better data-driven decisions and understand constituents’ needs. The technology's ability to gather and analyze sensor and video data collected on city streets helps officials with traffic and emergency management, for instance.
Still, use of AI is in the beginning stages. Only 1% said AI is widely used statewide, and 32% of respondents from 45 states are running AI or staging pilots. More than half of respondents have proofs of concepts or are evaluating requirements and issuing requests for information, while 12% said they have no plan to use AI.
The biggest barriers to adoption, according to the report, are legacy infrastructure, cultural concerns and lack of AI skills. Uncertainty about AI ethics is another stumbling block. Only 9% of respondents are completely confident in engaging on AI projects.
But AI has an unignorable place in government today and into the future. Looking forward, 78% of respondents said they expect AI to have the biggest impact in cybersecurity, while 75% pointed to fraud, waste and abuse detection and management, and 75% said citizen-facing digital services.
To realize these benefits, the report recommended states create a framework for AI adoption and teams to address change management, assess their data, modernize existing infrastructure and select low-hanging AI projects – such as chatbots – that deliver quick wins.
“In an era of rapid technological change and nearly limitless possibilities, artificial intelligence and machine learning stand out for their potential to transform our society,” the report said.
Read the full report here.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.