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Government releases guide for AI use in the public sector

It advises a careful and considerate approach to the tech, rather than rampant adoption

AI

The government has created a guide to shed light on how the public sector could put artificial intelligence technology to use

Created by the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Office for Artificial Intelligence, the guide effectively provides a manual that explores if AI is the right technology for the reader’s organisation or objectives, and explains how it might be deployed.

This ranges from assessing if AI tech can address the user’s needs and to ensure that if things don’t work out that systems can easily be reverted, to managing the implementation of planned AI deployment and exploring the safety and ethics to using AI systems in the public sector.

As AI is already being deployed in the public sector, the guide contains case studies for other public sector workers and organisations to draw inspiration from.

For example, it notes how the National Grid uses AI and drones to help maintain the wires and pylons that make up its electrical infrastructure.

Another cited example is how the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency use AI to improve MOT testing by analysing vast amounts of test data and then combining it with “day-to-day operations” to develop a risk score for garages and MOT testers that continually evolves. This gives the DVSA the means to direct its enforcement officers to garages and MOT testers that might be underperforming or committing fraud; the guide claims the use of such AI tech has reduced the preparation time for enforcement visits by half.

However, the guide does note that AI has its limitations, especially when it comes to inferring additional context from information than might not be apparent in a data set, as well as thinking imaginatively.

It also highlighted that making use of AI technology won’t always trump less advanced systems.

“Even if AI can help you meet some user needs, simpler solutions may be more effective and less expensive,” the guide said. “For example, optical character recognition technology can extract information from scans of passports. However, a digital form requiring manual input might be more accurate, quicker to build, and cheaper.”

The guide also highlighted the potential for AI systems to cause involuntary harm, with their creators having not considered technical issues such as algorithmic bias that could have a negative impact on individuals and communities.

In short, “A guide to using AI in the public sector” is just that. It is basically a manual for public sector executives and those in charge of technology investment on how best to approach the use of AI in their public service.

The guide does not overtly extol the virtues of AI nor does it discourage the public sector from experimenting with the technology. It does, however, suggest that a good deal of assessment and caution should be applied before AI investments are made.

This approach is arguably indicative of a more mature GDS, in that it is no longer rushing out to push a suite of digital technology across the government and wider public sector. Rather it’s now taking a more considerate approach to new technologies, deciding where they might enable practical digital transformation rather than adopting technology change for the sake of it.

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