Worst-case scenarios: How new tech could disrupt government

Worst-case scenarios: How new tech could disrupt government

New technologies such as drones, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and peer-to-peer networks could have long-term and potentially negative ramifications for governments, according to a report by the Brookings Institute.

“Some might assume that because technologies are life improving that the challenges for government will be small,” said Kevin Desouza, one of the authors of the report, in a blog post. “However, the proliferation of these technologies may have unintended consequences.”

Some of the negative impacts of new technologies could include decreased revenue streams, regulation struggles to prevent accidents and privacy invasions as well as decision-making without access to data that exists in the private sector, he continued.

The report studied the public-sector ramifications of a few technology trends: drones, driverless cars, artificial intelligence, peer-to-peer platforms, social media, data privatization and dependency, computer replacement of employees and technology increasing worker mobility.

Drones. Local governments and the Federal Aviation Administration are struggling to effectively manage and regulate civilian drone use. Current policies and regulations are minimal, creating the potential for air collisions between drones and larger aircraft.  There also are security issues because of the general inability to detect drones flying over secure sites, and potential threats to existing revenue streams (an Amazon drone delivery system could eliminate the need for many conventional package delivery services). Yet drones can also be used for the public good, such as controlling large crowds, monitoring crime hot spots and tracking the movement of criminals.

Driverless cars. Because driverless cars are programmed to abide by the law,  local government revenues from moving violations could dry up. And vehicles in almost continuous use will generate fewer parking tickets and towing fees. Increased safety, meanwhile, could mean unmanned cars will travel faster and closer together, lessening the amount of physical space needed for roadways. These vehicles may also encourage citizens to share their cars. At the same time governments will be responsible for maintaining transportation infrastructure with decreasing revenue streams, including lower taxes from decreased emissions.

Artificial intelligence. If machines replace a significant number of human jobs, the resulting high unemployment could destabilize economic systems. Governments could lose tax revenue from citizens unable to find paying work, yet shoulder increased costs for services to help individuals meet their basic needs. Still, artificial intelligence can also have a beneficial impact on government operations, such as automating infrastructure maintenance, efficiently allocating personnel to areas of need and creating intelligent interfaces that interact directly with citizens.

Peer-to-peer platforms. Peer-to-peer platforms such as Uber, Facebook and Airbnb have been very useful for citizens. However, governments face obstacles trying to respond to and regulate these platforms; peer-to-peer currency markets such as Bitcoin, for example, are largely unregulated. Additionally, the value of these platforms is largely untaxed with a decentralized ownership.  

Data privatization and dependency. Private-sector technology companies collect an increasing amount of data on individuals, who often are not aware of how much of their personal data is owned and exchanged by others. Questions remain as to the rights of individuals with regard to their personal data. Yet data collection is also beneficial to governments -- for delivering emergency response services and identifying tax evaders, for example. Government agencies will need to partner with companies and pay for access to data, but finding those funds will be challenging. Agencies will also need to determine how to manage and secure the data they need for their operations when they do not own the systems and processes that generate the data.

Fragile and conflict states. Criminals are increasingly turning to new technologies to aid their operations. Terrorists can coordinate attacks using social media platforms, GPS and high-resolution satellite images. These threats will only increase as technologies advance. Conflicts that used to be contained within a specific geographic region can now easily go global with the connectivity offered by technology. As conflict spreads, so will mass displacement of individuals affected. Local governments today have limited ability to deal with these threats. Governments must be able to proactively deal with difficult issues.

“Instead of retreating to 20th century thinking and trying to hinder this evolution, local leaders should figure out methods for embracing and integrating new technologies into their standard operating procedures,” the authors wrote. “Failing to claim this ground actively will likely lead to the end of local government in the form we know it today (and states and maybe nations may follow suit over time).”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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