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Tackling AI and Robotics at NAPA

Mar 15, 2018



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By Dr. Alan R. Shark, Chair, NAPA Standing Panel on Technology Leadership

There can be no doubt Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here and that its many applications and intelligence are growing. They are growing because they are learning! Who would have thought we would be talking to our mobile devices and standalone devices like Siri, Alexa, Google, and Cortana? Cable TV companies now offer remotes that provide the ability to choose channels, programs and genres all by voice. And instead of being programed to seek a standard response, these devices are learning about our tastes and requests and can now anticipate or offer us personalized options.

AI, while gaining much attention these days, is not as new as some might believe. The field of AI goes back at least 25 years but because of a confluence of technologies, it is indeed expanding and is now reaching the halls of government.  Much of AI’s growth can be attributed to:

  1. Advancements in complex algorithms.
  2. Dramatic Increase in speed and computing power.
  3. Ability to digest data from various sources (voice, videos, text, social media, etc.)
  4. Ability to store and retrieve massive amounts of data in fractions of a second.

Like the human brain, machine learning mimics not only how we process information and experiences, it learns from them as well. Add robotics to machine learning and you have devices that can easily replace human jobs that are dependent on repetition.  Some economists have predicted a major upheaval in the workforce by the year 2050. Others claim that new jobs will be created to make up for most of any loss.

There is little doubt that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics of all sorts are growing faster than most of us expected. With every advancement in AI, governments at all levels will continue to face many new challenges, such as ethics, privacy, human control, policy bias, predictive analytics, decision-making, citizen engagement, planning, and the future of work to name a few topics.

The National Academy for Public Administration believes it is important to actively explore this subject area as it relates to the future of public administration as well as the future of the workforce in government.  The Academy’s Standing Panel on Technology Leadership recently created an AI and Robotics Working Group. On March 6th, a number of Academy Fellows and some outside subject matter experts met to discuss and start to identify the many issues facing public administration and to develop a plan for meaningful outcomes and activities. Products might include White Papers, Special Reports, Blog postings, and Webinars.

Among the concerns expressed were to actively explore the implications of AI and the future of work and their impact on public administration. Some ideas for this group’s consideration might include ethics and accountability issues presented by underlying algorithms, how to determine whether data are “good” or not, how to prepare the government workforce for AI and robotics, and the impact of AI on our democracy.

Our work has just begun. As we continue to gather information, we invite you to join us and or contribute to our growing body of knowledge.

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