Understanding the Government’s ambition for AI is one thing, making it real is quite another

Written by SAS on 4 October 2018 in Sponsored Article
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How can government make the most of AI? Hugo D’Ulisse of SAS argues for more clarity and planning

“We are at the cusp of one of the most exciting times in our lives and, if we get our strategy for AI right, then the UK will be able to reap the rewards for our economy for decades to come.” - Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Greg Clark
 
It feels like exciting times for Government departments, both central and local, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and all its promise of ‘super efficiency’ and smart decision-making climbing up the strategic agenda. I know from experience with customers across the worlds of commerce and public sector that AI is certainly capable of bringing real material change to ways of working. 
 
The critical question now is: how can Government departments translate AI’s potential into meaningful, positive even life-changing outcomes for citizens, our economy post-Brexit, and society and our island environments as a whole? 
 
The answer, in my opinion, is to break AI implementation down into a very definite set of steps. It’s not a glamorous, big bang approach, but it is one that has been proven time and time again to turn visions into value-generating realities. You can read about these in detail at the SAS Public Sector site. 
 
Success requires meticulous planning
 
We’ve all read the controversial headlines about AI and how it will supposedly mark the end of human civilization as AI soldiers go rogue and machines take all human jobs. It’s right to acknowledge that, with AI, significant change is afoot. But it is change that, if planned well and has the buy-in of citizens and employees, will help to create a way of governing the UK that is smarter, more equitable and more efficient than we could ever hope to achieve without AI. It will help to build a way of governing that frees experienced civil servants to use their lateral thinking, compassion and creativity to better support organisations and citizens to make more nuanced, strategic decisions about how to reach more people with the right resources and interventions.
 
The current challenge is the perception of AI. Therefore, we recommend that every department communicates both internally and externally what benefits AI offers to those affected by its deployment. It’s about hearts and minds, honesty and giving audiences a stake. There is no reason for your audiences to worry about AI. If you think about what it really is – a means to enhance human endeavor, rather than replace it – it’s eminently possible to bring both the public and employees along with you. 
 
After all, in their lives as consumers, citizens are very willing to supply commercial organisations with the data required to power the advanced analytics that gives AI its intelligence and learning capabilities. They just need to trust that when they give more data to Government bodies they will see real value from it (better services, more access to public resources) rather be penalised for it (hounded by endless communications, mired in more administration).  
 
In our paper, called ‘Artificial Intelligence: How to transform the potential into a smart reality’, I talk about some of the ways Government bodies can begin to build trust with citizens as both a preliminary step towards AI implementation, and as an ongoing process once AI is in operation. Why is that important? Because many people – even those involved in AI development – retain concerns about the ethical use if AI, including possible algorithmic bias and what checks and balances should be put in place to ensure fair outcomes.   
 
Now on to the topic at hand: how can Government departments translate the possibilities of AI into a meaningful reality? I propose that there are five critical considerations to make, as follows, and you can read about them in detail in the paper referenced above:
 
1. Clarity of objective is key
Where will AI deliver most value? In policymaking, service delivery, analysing complex data sets for insights? Or all three and more? Wherever you deploy AI, know your objectives inside out before beginning, or it could simply become a costly exercise. 
  
2. Know your data very well
AI is only possible if you have access to big data – structured and unstructured contextual data – that can be used compliantly.  
 
3. Put citizens and ethics at the core
This is about ensuring AI never becomes a vanity project. Start by looking at the citizen outcomes you would like to change and how AI can ethically support that. 
 
4. Adopt a fail fast, learn fast mentality
Don’t be afraid to take an entrepreneurial approach to developing AI applications in the early stages. Any failures you do experience are invaluable learning experiences, though it will be vital to be agile and ensure your teams can maintain forward momentum.   
 
5. Accelerate valuable outcomes quickly
The best way to achieve this is through partnership, by collaborating with departments who have already had success, therefore developing an outreach programme can be helpful. Also partnering with experts outside your field – especially those who have AI solutions to offer that can be adapted to your use cases. This route will give you an essential short-cut through all the many issues you’ll need to navigate, such as regulatory compliance, decision tool development, data management, training and skills development and more. 
 
Government organisations who have taken a structured approach to considering the challenges, opportunities and outcomes of AI are now enjoying incredible efficiencies, improved service satisfaction levels, reduced backlogs and a more intelligent way to govern. You can read more about some of the creative ways AI is being used by governments in our paper. I hope it gives you lots of food for thought, and if you’d like to know more about how SAS is supporting UK government departments in this field, please contact me at Hugo.DUlisse@sas.com, or click here to find out more .  
 
About the author

Hugo D'Ulisse is Technical Director, Public Sector, for SAS

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